Howland's Press Conference

Head Coach Ben Howland talks about the injured, going through finals, Josh Shipp and his defense, the defense compared to last season, how well the Pac-10 is doing, and much more in his weekly press conference...

What's the physical condition of both Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Alfred Aboya?

"I don't know. We haven't practiced since the game. Alfred's fine. He came by a little while ago. He had a couple of finals yesterday, but he seems fine. He went to Emergency after the game, and his eye chambers were looked at and everything seemed good. He should be okay. With Luc, I don't know because I haven't seen him yet or talked to him."

Do you think the play where Aboya was poked in the eye was a foul?

"Whenever you get poked in the eye it's probably a foul. In fact, I'm watching the film and just about to see it again here."

What's your practice schedule look like this week?

"We're in finals right now. So, we're going to go for about an hour and fifteeen minutes tonight, from 6:30 to 7:45. It's the only time that fits for everybody. The same thing tomorrow. And then we'll have more normal practices on Thursday and Friday. Some guys are close to being done, others still have finals. We won't be completely really done until Friday."

In your experiences at UCLA, do finals affect the players much?

"I think it affects it. It affected us on Saturday. All the guys had all sorts of work last week. It's equally tough going into finals as it is during it. I can't remember last year. I think we were playing at Michigan, either right before or right before we got done with finals, the end of finals week. That was hard. It's been hard for 26 years. It's always been hard for student athletes to deal with finals and still be trying to focus and concentrate on preparing for a competition."

Is it easier to deal with them at UCLA than it is at a school with a less academic reputation?

"No. It's just hard."

Would you attribute Luc's play to the injury the last couple of games?

"He wasn't injured, he was in foul trouble against Fullerton. He really didn't feel it until that night after the game in his groin. In that game he had three offensive fouls and I think he played 19 minutes. He never got in a rhythm against Fullerton. In the game the other day...I think a lot of times people equate not playing well with just looking at the stat sheet. If you watch this film right here he did an unbelievable job battling that guy inside all day long. There are things that don't show up in the stats that are just as important as the things that do. I don't think he played all that bad. I don't think he shot it well, and part of that is just the rhythm not being able to practice for a couple of days because of it."

Wasn't it kind of unusual that he only go four rebounds?

"Yeah, but I have to attribute some of that to Texas A&M. They did a great job of blocking out. He was focused more than anything at keeping those guys off the glass. We didn't rebound well as a team."

Do you see teams putting more bodies on Luc, especially on the offensive boards?

"No, I don't think so.  He's done a good job all year. I just think Texas A&M is an exceptional team. I won't be shocked if they go deep into the NCAA tournament and finish very high in the Big 12. That's the best team we've played so far this year for sure."

Where does Oakland measure up?

"I haven't watched them yet on film. First of all, the have the road schedule of all road schedules. I know they have good guards and they shoot it well. The coach there has a brother who lives out here in Southern California. That was really the impetus to come to play at UCLA, to come out and be able to see his brother and bring his team out west."

So, they contacted you guys?

"Yes."

You didn't know much about them before that?

"Yeah. When I was at Pitt we played in a tournament and they were in the tournament. He's a good coach. He's done a good job there. He took them from D-2 to D-1, and he's a very, very good coach. And they play a very difficult schedule. A lot of guaranteed games. He's done an outstanding job."

Have defenses started to sag off Luc to force him to shoot more rather than drive to the basket?

"I think everyone plays people differently. But no. I'm totally confident in his shot. I really am. Sometimes he's taken a quick shot. I thought he took a questionable shot on the baseline and he missed it, guarded, underneath the basket. Sometimes it happens when you're pressing. I thought Josh did that early, but he got better in letting it come to him, and he's scoring easier now. Against BYU, Josh came out and tried to get things going, missed a couple of shots and all of sudden you start shooting with less confidence. The whole key is taking good shots."

How critical is it that you get some of your younger guys playing time over the next couple of games?

"It's just game to game. We're just trying to win each game one at a time. When more opportunity presents itself, that's great. You know they're going to be throw into tough situations this season very early. They're going to be playing more minutes than they've played thus far. I thought Russell Westbrook's minutes the other day were very, very good for us. And that was a very good game for those kids to play in."

Was James Keefe disappointed not getting in? And does he understand why he's not getting in?

"I didn't talk to him after the game. But he was very supportive and happy about the team winning. I think James knows he's done a good job and in that particular game it was just such a physical, physical game, that I elected to go with the guy who had the bigger body.  I don't remember a more physical game than Saturday's game since I've been here. Except maybe Stanford being the heck out of his my first year up there. That might be the one game, where they just crushed us physically."

Darren Collison has turned over the ball more the last two games. Is it anything he's doing?

"Yeah, I think against Fullerton, they did a good job pressuring him. Then (on the tape) I just watched one go off his foot a minute ago. I think he probably lost a little focus and concentration a couple of times. He's got a lot on his shoulders here. Everything goes through him. Even with his more turnovers, our team's turnovers are way down. He handles the ball a lot. I've been pleased with Darren. Those two threes at the end of the half were huge."

Losing the ball on the dribble, is a lot of that a strength issue?

"It's dribbling the ball much higher than the dribble should be. It's been his thing we've tried to work on, talk about. Until he gets it down lower, he's going to continue to have more turnovers than you'd like him to have at times. He plays low, but his dribble is still above his waist and sometimes it's up by his shoulders. When you watch the film you see how high his dribble is."

Was that Josh's best all-around game of the season so far? Is he worked into game shape?

"I think he's been doing a great job the whole time. And again, he had 18 points. Was that his best game? Josh seems to play good in big games. He just enjoys it. I thought he played well over in Maui. He was key for us over there. I just don't always equate someone playing good with having big numbers. There were games last year when Luc played great and he didn't have 20 points."

How satisfied are you with Josh's defense?

"It's improved since he was a freshman. Among our wings he's our best help defender. He still will continue to get better. I just watched him (on the tape) get beat off the dribble here. He has to be able to stay in front of the ball. It was hard, because they were so engaged with their offensive guys. It was almost like they were clearing us out when we would get dribbled on. Our big guys couldn't release to go help because they were getting physically pushed out of the play. It was smart by them."

Would those be considered moving screens?

"It really gets passed over, because we're playing post D, trying to move around, and they're trying to post you up. They see their teammates driving and they just keep them behind you and keep moving their feet. We did get a call late in the game on that kind of play, though. Finally."

Were you complaining about it at all?

"No."

You've said in the past that maybe this team won't be as good as last year's team defensively. How good can this team be defensively? And what do you want to see in areas of improvement?

"I don't want to get out-boarded by 11. That'd be number one. Second thing is we have to get people below 40% from the field. Our schedule has been pretty rigorous. Our RPI is #2 in the country right now. A lot of that is strength of schedule, and we're getting everyone's best shot. I think we're holding at 42% right now, and we'd like to continue to improve that. The thing we've done this year, and a lot of it has to do with being a little stronger, and Darren has a lot to do with it, but we've forced more turnovers than we ever have. They had 20 the other day. I think we're number one in the conference in steals. I've never had a team lead the conference in steals, ever. I'm not into gambling.  A lot of our steals are just from good pressure. That's been a big help for us. Our steals versus our turnovers has been a huge improvement from a year ago. We held them to 49% on Saturday and I thought our defense at times was pretty good."

Right. But it's December, so you can get better in areas.

"Absolutely."

Are they understanding the concept of team defense and switching well?

"Yeah. Part of this, being ranked #1, we still realize it's December 12th, and we have a long way to go."

Do you even start entertaining the undefeated issue?

"Absolutely not. I don't think you're going to see anyone in college basketball go undefeated."

What has suprised you about the Pac-10 teams so far, good and bad?

"It's been pleasing and great to see how well our conference is doing. If you look at the conference, we're 8-0, Oregon is 7-0, Washington State is 9-1, Arizona is 7-1 and #1 in the RPI, Washington is 7-1, Stanford is 6-1, USC is 6-12 and they get Gabe Pruitt now and that makes them that much better. They're going to be very good. Cal is 7-3 and Arizona State is 4-3, and Oregon State is 5-4. Our conference is tough. I feel confident that this league will get at least five teams in the NCAA tournament. Half the league will go to the NCAAs, minimum. That's why that win for us on Saturday was big. All these non-conference games for everyone are huge."

Do you take some pride in the teams that are ranked #1 and #2 in the country?

"I'm very excited for our program, and for our fans. And I'm also very happy for Pitt and for Jamie Dixon. So, yeah, it's great. And again, it's December. I would take even more pride if it were March or April right now."

Are you disappointed at all in the Pauley crowd? One would expect there won't be a huge crowd Saturday for Oakland.

"I expect it to be sold out. I appreciate what great fans we have. I thought we had a great fan down there in Orange County. Just watching it on TV a minute ago, they were very supportive, and that was nice. This is a pro town, and there is a lot going on. I'm very appreciative of the fans and all the support they give us."

Bruin Report Online Top Stories