Head Coach Ben Howland addressed the media Tuesday.
What have you learned about Texas Tech?
"Basically the same things we've talked about on Sunday. It's a motion team. They have a number of different entries that they'll into the motion. They're a very good screening team. They really set solid, physical picks. They look to pick on a poor defender, and isolate that person, who may be a bad defender on another team. Or they also go to a guy that's hot and continue to run motion to get a hot player more and more shots. Their perimeter players, Ronald Ross, Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno, are really good. They all can shoot it and they all can bounce it. Interestingly, they all have good shot selection. I think that's the number one thing on offense is to have good shot selection, and they really I think exemplify that. They take the least amount of threes in the Big 12 and shoot the highest percentage. They're a very good defensive team that gets out and pressures and denies leads. They have a good inside presence in Devonne Giles and Darryl Dora, who are good players. They have Damir Suljagic (mangles pronunciation), however you say his name, is a very good physical player. They have two physical guys, Sujagic and Joey Hawkins, who are physical, tough. One of them is a football player, who reminds me of the guy from Oregon State who played against us in the first game and then got hurt. What was his name? Hachett? Hanchett? A perfect name for him. They're extremely well-coached and disciplined. In watching the Big 12 tournament championship they could have easily won that game than lose that game, which I think says all you need to say coming out of that conference."
What are your thoughts going up against Bobby Knight?
"It's a very, very well-coached team because of Coach Knight. He's going to end up being the all-time winningest coach in the next year or two, getting more wins than anybody. He's one of the great coaches in the history of basketball."
When you first qualified for the NCAA tournament at NAU and Pittsburgh, how much anxiety was there for the players? How do you try to offset that?
"They were completely different. At NAU, it was the first time ever in the history of the school to make the NCAA, so there was a lot of excitement surrounding that. At Pitt, we were a very high seed, and coming off a Big East championship and finals of the tournament, and we really expected to get in . At NAU it was winning the conference tournament or you don't get in. I think it's more excitement than anxiety for players. They're excited more than they're anxious. This is what you work hard for all season long, to get to this point of the season when you play in the NCAA tournament."
Will Arron Afflalo have some advantages defending their guards, who are smaller?
"Not at all. It comes down to quickness. Arron will do a great job defensively. Ross is a great player. He averaged 19 points per game in the Big 12 conference, taking good shots. He's a senior, and he's very athletic. The key thing for Arron will be how his teammates help him as he's being screened. That's what happens. You're like a bowling ball out there as you're guarding one of their perimeter players. You have to really do a good job of not allowing separation and trailing, not getting tricked. You have to force them one way, take one way, and then help, and know that your teammates are going to extend screens, and bump curls. If you don't trail he's just going to catch and shoot. He's a very good player, Ross, off the bounce, catching and shooting, creating for others. He's a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ration guy. He's just an outstanding player."
Does he remind you of anybody you've played?
"Well, he could be like a Thomas Kelati (of Washington State). That's only because it's a similar type system. You're screening for smalls, and you have guys that are really good at moving without the ball. They take a few more shots per game and look to push it more than Washington State. He could be like that. He's not the same body type. This kid is like, you know. I've been to his hometown, Hobbs, New Mexico. I'm sure he came from the same high school where Ralph Trasker coached. I think he's fourth all-time in the history of high school coaches. He just passed away a few years ago in his eighties. He coached there for over 50 years. That's a great little basketball community, for the size of that community. That's where Bill Bridges came out of, who played for the Lakers. That's actually where coach Rob Evans, the Arizona State coach, is from, and his assistant Tony Benford, who played at Tech. There have been a lot of great players from there."
Going into the game with freshmen guards, what are they going to have to do?
"Play well. Play their best basketball of the year."
You have concerns about freshmen jitters?
"No, they're going to be excited. It's more excitement and not anxiety. They want to play in this tournament. It's what it's all about. Our three starting freshmen have all played in big games, throughout their careers. They were in championship games in high school, CIF championship games, state championship games, sectional games. That's the type of game it is: if you lose, you're done. It's a sense of urgency, in terms of our preparation, and how we have to play in order to have success."
Many think that guard play is particularly important in terms of NCAA tournament success. Do you a formula?
"I think it's basically it's following the same thing that gets you there - defend and rebound. I think NCAA tournament games often times become more half-court situations, and the score is a little lower, just like in the NBA playoffs. It becomes half-court execution on both ends of the floor, allowing your opponent only one shot. It's also playing to your strengths, whatever your strength is as a team. It comes down to defending, rebounding, taking care of the basketball, taking good shots...it's the same basics that you have all year long."
When Brian Morrison plays well, you are a lot better. How can you get him to play under control?
"First of all, it brings up a point that I thought had already been brought up, but I'll make the announcement now. Brian was hurt in practice Saturday morning. He took a knee to his right thigh. He was out for the rest of practice, and it was early in practice. He did not practice yesterday. He will not practice again today. We're hoping he'll be able to do some shooting by tomorrow, but that is yet to be determined. It's a thigh contusion. Our trainer says it's the worst one on the team this year. Remember Josh Shipp had one. It was severely swollen. Those things can often times be bad. He's on his treatment, getting the whirlpool, and hopefully we can have him to play."
Has he run or ridden a bike?
Do you expect him to play?
"I hope that he plays. I'm not even thinking otherwise. I have to see him today to see how he's doing. I talked to him and he said he was feeling better than yesterday. But what that means I don't know."
How is Josh and his ankle?
"Josh has practiced both Saturday and yesterday."
The way Texas Tech's guy's move out to the perimeter, can Michael Fey adapt to that?
"He has a hard time matching up with bigs who take him out on the perimeter. The way the start, they start Suljagic, and he's the best matchup for him. He and Hawkins. When he has to match up on Giles, it's a little more difficult. He can step out and make shots. Like I said, it's a lot like playing Washington State. It's not just guarding them. What's more important is him getting out on the perimeter and extending screens, bumping curls, and being able to rotate to players on the perimeter when there are on-ball screens. You know, moving."
Any thought to starting Ryan Hollins?
Can Fey take advantage inside?
"Let's hope so."
Is there a player or a matchup that you think is the X-factor?
"Not really. I think their two guards...we have to defend their two leading scorers, Ross and Jackson. Between the two of them, they average 35 points a game. Against Oklahoma, for example, between the two of them they had 50 on Saturday. They take the most shots. Then Zeno is a tough matchup. He's very athletic. They have good players, that's why they're a six seed, and could be higher."
When teams play them, do teams switch off on all their screens or do they try to fight through them?
"A lot of teams just quit and go zone. The one team that didn't play them in a zone, to no surprise, is Oklahoma State. Kansas played zone, which is something they don't do a lot. Oklahoma played zone, which they do some, but it's not their main thing. Texas played almost all zone."
What's your feeling on that?
"They beat all those teams that zoned them. It's a tough matchup. They're good. We obviously have been watching them a lot on film, and it's anyway you look at it."
So, they've been zoned, but effective against it?
"Actually, Oklahoma zoned them, and it's the one game that they didn't attack the zone that well. But then Oklahoma tried the same strategy again, and they got beat. You're not going to fool the ol' General there too often."
So are you practicing a zone?
"No. We will not be zoning on Thursday."
Someone asked Knight what he thought was the key to the NCAA tournament, and he said making sure you have enough rest. Can it work in your favor that you've been off since Thursday and they just came off three tough games?
"I don't know that. I think it comes down to that we won five of our last six going into the game against Oregon State. They were playing well here down the stretch. At this point as a player, you have to put everything out there on the line. They probably took Monday off and they'll practice today and tomorrow and then get ready."
Does playing the last game of the day matter?
"I have no problem with playing the last game. It's great. It's the national game. It's the last game of the tournament and it will be on national television. The 10:00 game east coast time, 7:00 here, is the game that will be seen all over the country. It's good. It's good for the program. The exposure is great."
You said Dijon Thompson had a great practice Saturday...
"He was really good again yesterday."
Is he offering any suggestions to the younger players?
"I don't know that. You can ask him that."
Do you have any special thoughts about Dijon being the guy that got your program headed in the right direction?
"I wouldn't say that he did it alone, by any means. I would say that his senior year has been one of his best senior years seen around here in a while. His improvement from his junior year was really good. He's worked really hard. It's great to see what I really believe in, which is a guy that works really hard earn what he gets. He's earned the kind of year he's had, through hard work and dedication. Through a lot of time and effort. That's what you love to see as a coach. You want to see your players improve. We've seen a number of guys improve, not only from last year to this year, but throughout this season. He's done a great job, there's no question. If you look at his numbers, and what he's meant to the team. Again, I keep talking about it, and I have for a long time, but his ability to defend that position, is not something that I really thought he could do as well as he's done going into the season. If only I had been smarter and started him at the four right away."
Is Texas Tech familiar with a player like him, or is he different than anything they know?
"I'm not sure who they'll start out matching up with him, probably Dora. They'll play differently. Who knows? Some teams try to guard him with a small, some with a big. It's just team to team."
It sounds like they're a bit susceptible to teams pounding it inside, against teams with a guy inside who can score. Do you see that?
"I was just watching Wayne Simien (of Kansas) before I came down here, who is probably the best big guy in the country. When they do play against a good guy like that they really cover down and make it hard on him. They'll gameplan depending on what are their needs. But I don't necessarily agree to that, that there's been any great big guy that's taken advantage of them, by any means. I watched them against Oklahoma State, and they defended real well. They had a real shot to win that game on Sunday. They're up six with four something to go. They're up two with the ball with two minutes to go. John Lucas hits a huge shot to put them up three in a tied ball game. It's right there. So that says it all right there."
You said they take advantage of poor defenders. Do you have anyone you're worried about getting taken advantage of?
"I have a lot of guys I'm worried about."
Did you play anyone that defends like they do?
"Washington State. They're a good analogy."
Do they have an advantage having been in the tournament last year?
"I think obviously the experience of the tournament helps you. But it still comes down to the game. We're playing another game. It's the NCAA tournament. It's great. We're playing in Tucson. Both teams don't have to go too far. It doesn't really favor either team in terms of travel. We've played in that facility, and we're familiar with the McHale Center, which is a good thing. It still comes down to playing the game and getting out there and competing, more than anything."
Do you enjoy watching a team coached by Bobby?
"Coach Knight (laughs). I have great respect for his coaching ability and what he's accomplished. When you look at his tree of coaches. Probably the most successful coach over the last 15 years has been Coach K. That's his guy. That's his captain in the Army. Then go right down the line and look at all of the branches of coaches that he has spawned off his family tree. It's a very successful system. My assistant, Ernie Zeigler, worked for Dan Dakich at Bowling Green before he came to work for me at Pitt, which is the spitting image, the same exact system to the T. There are just so many."
What's different about his motion offense?
"I don't think there are many people that run pure motion like they do. Again, its entry is in the motion, but still it comes down to them being pretty pure how they run it. Some run four out and one in. His is really five-man motion. Different guys can post at any time. Different entries. Again, they're trying to take advantage of weakness. They could post Zeno on Josh. If they think they can take advantage of Arron by running Ross off a millions screens, that's what they're going to do. Same thing with Jackson and Jordan. Or try to get Mike out on the perimeter and drive him. They're always looking for those little matchup advantages, like any team."
What's your schedule?
"We're going to leave tonight. We practice at the normal time, at 3:00. Then we'll have a meeting, eat, and get on the buses here at 6:30, with our traveling party of about 100 people and fly out about 7:30, 7:45, depending on L.A. traffic. We have a charter right into Tucson, so that's a positive."
Do you think the young players understand what they're in for, playing in the NCAA?
"We've talked about that. The bottom line is that we knew, in the back of our minds that if we lost one of the Pac-10 tournament games, which unfortunately was the first one, that we were still going to have a game left most likely. But now, 'this is it.' Kenny Loggins."
You'll practice at McHale tomorrow?
"Yes, we will. Our practice tomorrow night late will be a shooting one. We will have already practiced our normal practice. I'm not going to practice open to the public. No one does. Everyone has already done their practice earlier in the day."
Is there something you'll do before they game when your players are excited to settle them down?
"I want them to be excited. I want to use that excitement and channel that into aggression and toughness, so that they can defend and be ready to grind out possessions defensively because they're going to be patient offensively. You look at their last games, wins over Iowa State, Oklahoma and a few more. They averaged in those wins about 50 shots per game, which is right in line with Washington State shot attempts. They're going to push it, but when they don't have it they'll run their offense until they get something good. Those kids by now will wait until they get good shots. Ultimately it could be the thing that decides the game, the team that makes the least amount of mistakes."
They have seemed to lose big this season, though...
"I'm not seeing that as being...All I know is that they should have won on Sunday against Oklahoma State, which is a team that wins it all. They're a two seed. They beat Oklahoma handily. They beat Iowa State handily. It's about how you're playing lately. They did lose to Oklahoma at home, but that was against the zone. They went back and worked on it and annilihated the zone the next time they saw it."
How much tape have your players seen?
"They haven't seen any yet. They'll start looking at some today. It will be the same amount. We'll start today, though, since we have a little more time to prepare."