Head Coach Ben Howland answered questions at the Friday press conference.
Howland: "Well, I guess we'll start with an injury update. Today in practice, this morning, Ryan Hollins suffered a contusion to I believe his right knee, right above the kneecap. That was about 20 minutes into practice, maybe 25. Started to ice it, did not practice the rest of the time. Has swelling there. He will not be shooting around. When we're done with our media obligations, go out to shoot at 3:10, then we'll see how he feels tonight. I would expect it would take a lot to keep him out of that game tomorrow. We'll see that later.
"Lorenzo Mata who broke his nose on practice on Wednesday when we arrived did get the CAT scan done. Our trainer did a good job of snapping it right back into place. They looked at it. The doctors were impressed. He did not practice yesterday, but did practice today with his mask on, which he had already broken his nose once, so this is the second broken nose for him this year. He's got two broken noses and a broken leg going right now. Hopefully he can stay healthy here the rest of the way."
When you came in with the two guards, your first targets for recruiting, did you ever worry about the defense, the rugged style not selling to either players or fans in that area?
"We just try to play hard, compete at the defensive end of the floor. I think when you look at the teams right now that are playing, for example, our opponent LSU is holding the teams they're playing against to 33% in the four games they've played in the NCAA tournament. If you want to win, you've got to play hard, you've got to play good defense. That's not just college basketball, that's Detroit Pistons or the San Antonio Spurs or the Lakers of the past, the Bulls of the past, the Celtics, the Lakers again in the Riley era, the Chuck Daly teams or the New England Patriots or the Green Bay Packers or the Pittsburgh Steelers - go Steelers - the Colts here did a great job playing better defense. You talk about baseball, the team that has good pitching. There's no big secrets to this. If you want to win, and our players want to win, they want to have a chance to put themselves to be able to advance beyond the college level, all of them do, and you have to be able to play both ends.
"The best players in the world are players that play both ends of the floor, starting with Michael Jordan. You can go right there, talk about him. He's the greatest player arguably that's ever played the game. He's definitely obviously one of the top if not the top. He's the best defender at his position ever. So great players compete at both ends of the floor. When you start really talking about it, really being rational about it, it's not a hard sell because all players want to be great. "Be like Mike."
When did you look up and see your team and realize that the defense was starting to kick in, make sense, work?
"We've had some very good defensive performances throughout the year. We started our first conference home opener against Stanford up 18-2. We started our first -- I shouldn't say our first, but against USC up 18-2. Both those games were really started off well by playing great team defense and really creating some turnovers and opportunities with our defensive intensity. I thought we played very good defense against Nevada early in the year and Michigan early in the year. We were outstanding defensively against Temple I believe the second game of the year where they shot less than 30% from the field of the year. A very good John Chaney team. We've been playing good defense pretty much throughout the year and have really ratcheted up to a new level probably the last 11 games of this season."
With UCLA back in the Final Four, there's been a lot of talk of the tradition. How have the players embraced the tradition that comes with playing at UCLA? Have you had much interaction with Coach Wooden?
"In answer to your first question, we really -- I really try to help our players be encouraged to understand how lucky they are to be a part of the fraternity they're in, which is to be a UCLA basketball player. That's a very special fraternity. One of the things that we did was I had a barbecue at my house in the early fall where we invited all the former players and had a great response. Probably had 70 to 80 of the former players, including Coach Wooden, Jerry Norman, come to my house, then have my entire team there so our entire team could mix in a relaxed setting. I had my two best friends come up and cook the best tri-tip barbecue, enchiladas you can imagine, unbelievable food. It was great.
"You had Bill Walton, Greg Lee, Don MacLean, Rod Foster, Eddie Sheldrake, George Stanich from the Class of '46 on coach's first teams in 1946, all the way through. Marques Johnson, Lucius Allen, Mike Warren, John Vallely, Bill Sweek. I could go just go on and on and on and on and on. It was great because I think it really helps. What's special about that is that nowhere else in the country does anyone have the tradition and history that UCLA has in college basketball. It really is a motivator 'cause not only are our players representing our team, they're representing the program and they're representing all the former players that played here.
"In answer to your second question, I talked to Coach Wooden on Sunday upon returning after we arrived back from Oakland Saturday night. I came back to the office from church Sunday morning, talked to him Sunday afternoon. He was great, so excited for our team, the program, his team, his program because that's what it is. Our players understand that aspect of it. This is always and always will be John R. Wooden's UCLA basketball program that really he started. I am at this point in time the torch bearer and carrying the flag forward.
Once you get 'em on campus, you make 'em understand what the tradition is. When you go recruiting, do you lead with Coach Wooden? What impact is that on the recruiting process?
"It's important because I think, more so for the parents of the players oftentimes that we recruit because they really get it, they remember, they remember those teams as obviously I grew up with that most of us -- I'm a 48-year-old, you know, we all remember. The parents of kids today are typically a little younger than that now. I'm getting old.
"But we also talk about just how many pros have come out of UCLA. Kids today, they want to play in the NBA. That's the ultimate goal. We want to get to the league. We've put out more pros than any program in the country in the last 20 years except one I believe. We're going to have a lot more. We want to obviously sell that. Starts with winning. The tradition and history is always important. In UCLA you have more media attention and media coverage than maybe any program in the country. It's the second biggest market in the United States. It's a great school academically. We have to get a special recruit. We can't just recruit every kid in the country. It has to be a profile that fits UCLA.
"The average GPA of the incoming freshman class at UCLA this past year, for the entire freshman class at UCLA, was a 4.2 out of 4.0 with a 1360 on the old SAT out of 1600. They turned away 5,000 to 6,000 4.0 students. The most applied-for campus in the United States of America. It's a special place. It takes a very unique kid that is motivated highly not only as a player but also as a student and understands the expectations that if you come to UCLA, you're going to graduate as well as be a part of the something special, and us help him, whatever player we're recruiting, reach his goals, while along the way having goals together we're going to reach.
In the PAC-10 tournament you did a good job in the second half shutting down Leon Powe. Does Davis present a similar challenge, and how do you think your guys matchup to both he and Thomas?
"Leon Powe is a great player. Second-Team All-American. I saw one of the All-American teams, well-deserved. He led our league, the PAC-10, rebounding. Two years ago, his freshman year, he redshirted last year, led us again this year in the league. He's the last player since Adam Keeffe in 1991 in the PAC-10 to average 20 and 10, which is an incredible feat for a year-long season, not just PAC-10 play, but overall. The difference between him and Big Baby is Big Baby is 310 pounds, 6'9", unbelievably wide and athletic, whereas Leon is only 240, 245. Big Baby presents even more issues and challenges, has unbelievable feet. I imagine him, how good would he be as a tailback? He is self-proclaimed -- last night, we were at the salute for the four teams that were in, they quoted, he actually didn't say it, quoted him he's the best tailback to ever come out of Baton Rouge. I don't know. I wouldn't want to tackle him. I certainly wouldn't want to box him. With those hands and feet, geez, he could be unbelievable at anything he wants to do. That's the kind of eye-hand coordination he has. It's going to be a huge challenge.
"Thomas is the Shawn Marion of college basketball. Shawn Marion is the greatest athlete in all of the NBA. He was playing right here last night. We went and watched Reggie's jersey be retired as a team, which was really special for our program, our team to be there, to be able to support him. What a great player, great person he is. Thomas, he's a shot-blocking, fly-swatting machine who plays so hard and has such passion in the way he plays the game and competes. I respect their whole team, but he is a special talent."
Could you talk about Ryan Hollins, and your other big guys.
"First of all, we hope Ryan is going to be okay, number one. Number two, Ryan has been playing the best basketball of his career here the last seven, eight games of our season, has really helped us as a team be able to get to where we are right now. Without Ryan Hollins' productivity, both at the end of the season, the last few league games, the conference tournament, now the four NCAA tournament games, including being regional MVP in Oakland, we would not be here obviously. We need Ryan Hollins to continue what he's been doing. He's been rebounding well, scoring, being down low. He's so smart, so intelligent. Ryan Hollins' greatest attribute is how smart he is. He's very bright. His best basketball is his future. He's a 21-year-old senior who doesn't turn 22 until October 10th, '06, this year. I mean, I had players at Pitt that were playing at 25, which is always an advantage. At 24 years old, when you're a man physically and mentally, it's always advantageous to be older. You just get better."
Obviously Ryan wants to play tomorrow. How could that type of injury potentially impact his mobility?
"He's going to be with Tony Spino, our trainer, all night. We'll be hooking him up to -- what's the machine called, Stim machine. He'll be getting stimmed, iced, they'll be massaging it. Just assuming it's musculature, it will take a team of horses to hold him from being able to play. His senior year, his opportunity to play in the national semifinal game against LSU. That would be my guess. Anything's possible, though, especially this year."
So much has been raised with UCLA, Coach Wooden, how much you're attached to him. It's been 31 years since he coached college basketball. How relevant is John Wooden in 2006 to college basketball? Can you talk about the George Mason story, how it's touched you this year.
"I hope you're planning on serving me a lob pitch there on the first one, because that's really easy. How relevant is John Wooden to the game in 2006? He's the greatest coach in the history of the game, period. What they accomplished, when you're talking about players changing, it's not like an NBA team where you can -- especially back in the day, you could keep guys six, seven eight years on the same team. Hazzard, Goodrich, Fred Slaughter, Jack Hirsch, Keith Erickson, on to Warren, Jabbar, Lynn Shackelford, et cetera. On to Wicks, Rowe, Patterson, Hollyfield. Don't let me forget Gail Goodrich, on to Walton, Lee, Jamal Wilkes era, all those great players. Marques Johnson, Meyers. So many different groups of guys, yet all having similar levels of success. Four teams that were 30-0. 37 times they won sudden death playoff games in the NCAA tournament without defeat. 141-2 at Pauley Pavilion. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar I believe was 89-2 in his career. Lucius Allen lost one game.
"His teachings, the fundamentals, the adherence to doing the right thing, being a good person, having a routine, basketball is a game of repetition. Just go read his works. His relevance will not only be today, it will be 50 years and a hundred years from now relative to this game. That's his impact on this game.
"I think the George Mason story is a special story. It just speaks to George Mason' success, college basketball today, in that anybody can beat anybody on a given day. I coached and played at the Low major, the mid-major, I've been at the high major in all different levels of Division I basketball. You're seeing the evening of college basketball more because there's so many good players. You look at their program, you see that Florida, LSU, UCLA are very young teams. We have four freshmen that are going to play significant roles tomorrow. LSU starts three freshmen. Florida obviously has a lot of young kids that play for them that are very important. George Mason is that mid-major program that has three redshirt seniors that have been through the wars, that are older, they're men, they're not deterred. They have a great coach. He does a great job. This could be Mark Few sitting here easily. Very easily Mark Few could be sitting where I am right now with no question. They're a unique situation that they're like a high major, but playing in a mid-major league, the WCC, which is a great league."