Howland and Afflalo Presser

Head Coach Ben Howland and junior guard Arron Afflalo both answered questions from the media Monday about the free-throw shooting and rebounding, the challenges of being #1 and facing Sam Houston State Tuesday...

Comments from Head Coach Ben Howland

What do you know about Sam Houston State?

"They're a team that runs a Princeton-style offense. And when I say Princeton-style, they run Princeton's offense. I was watching a little last night when I was trying to catch Jordan Farmar (with the Lakers).  They run a lot of little, quick-hitting plays. It's a hard match-up for our big guys because they don't have a true center. Their big people are all step-out, three-point shooters. That's something I'm relishing, trying to defend them."

Do we detect some sarcasm there?

"Yeah. It's going to be a hard deal. Irvine beat them the other night and I watched the tape. They missed a lot of open shots that I think they don't normally miss. They had a lot of good looks, and they missed a lot of shots they normally have been making. They're well-coached. This guy does a very good job coaching them, if you look at their record over the last three years. It's a good team for us, though, because we're going to see the same style when we play Arizona State and West Virginia coming up shortly."

Do you remember UCLA's history with Princeton?

"I do. I remember that Pete Carrill, it was his last year as the coach. It was a loss in the 40s, if I'm not mistaken.'

Being #1, and getting more votes every week, is this a big deal? How do you feel about this?

"It's great for the program. It's great to get recognition, for the players, the program, and also for the Pac-10. The Pac-10 is really up right now. We're #1 in the polls and #2 in the RPI, so it looks good in the RPI and the polls."

With conference play right around the corner, what issues are you concentrating on in practice?

"We're really focusing on the next game. It's always like that. I wish we could worry about Washington State right now, but we have Sam Houston State and Michigan, and then we'll have two whole days to get ready for Washington State."

I mean areas on the floor…

"Really we're trying to get better in two areas. We need to become a better foul-shooting team. Our foul shooting is really poor right now. That's probably the #1 focus. And then our rebound margin. We're only at about 2.6 per game right now, which is not going to win consistently as we move forward. We have to become a better rebounding team, and a better free-throw shooting team. Some of that rebounding margin is a little askew, like the other night we were out-rebounded, but we missed eight foul shots and they missed one. Typically when you miss a foul shot the other team is going to get the rebound because they have four guys up there to your two. But we still have to do a better job rebounding."

They're little, trick things to teach in practice. What are your strategies for teaching it?

"Free-throw shooting is time. It's being able to spend a lot of time at it, and repetition. And good repetition. I was surprised that Josh Shipp missed free throws since he had shot it well in practice the previous two days. And Lorenzo Mata is on-going. He's going to get better and better with repetition. In terms of blockouts, we have to do it every day in practice. We're going to do it today in practice."

Do you feel you're the best team in the country right now?

"I think there are probably about 15 teams that are all very close to one another. It's all based on how you play that day. Do I think we're clearly far and away better than anyone else? No. There is so much parity in college basketball that it's very, very minute."

Do you think the winner of the Florida-Ohio State game would have a claim to #1?

"I'll tell you this. The ranking is nice. But the great things about college basketball is that it is all decided. It's going to be figured out. It isn't a bowl game. We're going to have an NCAA tournament here in March. It's nice when you're recognized as #1 and voted high, but in reality it really matters April 3rd."

About the free throws…have you ever had an issue like this where you might have spent so much time on it that you had to go away from it for a time?

"No, I don't believe in that. If it's important, you have to work hard at it and you have to emphasize it. I don't know if the sting of defeat will finally be the impetus to make us better foul shooters. I don't know what it will finally take, but we have to get better."

How's Russell Westbrook? Is he okay?

"As far as I know. We had yesterday off. The trainer said they didn't think it was a big deal after the game, but I haven't seen him today yet."

Can you talk about Darren Collison, his role and what he's meant to your team?

"Darren's done a great job. His on-ball pressure defense has really helped us in terms of creating more turnovers and more steals. It all starts with him, his pressure on the ball.  Most teams run their offense through their point guard, and he does a great job of pressuring. I get a little worried that he'll get in foul trouble when he's pressuring the ball, but he's been so good at staying out of foul trouble while giving intense pressure. He's done a good job offensively. He was very efficient. His foul shooting is above 80%. He's shooting a good percentage from three. He's making good decisions. I've been happy with Darren so far. He's shooting 44% from three, which is tops on the team. He's the best free-throw shooter on the team. He's doing a great job."

What is the status of Lorenzo Mata? It seemed like he was slowed down in the last game, playing less than 20 minutes.

"I think I explained it after the game. He had missed two days of practice last week because he had tweaked his knee in practice earlier in the week. But I think he should be fine."

Comments by Arron Afflalo

Are you glad that this is one of the last Sam Houston Oakland type of games?

"Am I glad? It's a good game for us to learn from. I am looking forward to Pac-10 play, but we still have two more non-conference games, so I'm excited about both of them."

What have you learned about this UCLA team in the first nine games?

"We still have some problems that we need to improve on before we get into Pac-10 play, which is going to be the most strenuous and important part of our season."

What are the things you need to improve on?

"Our rebounding margin, and our free throws, because those are two things that can really hurt you down the stretch, if you're not improving on that part. Just the little things, execution, some of the decisions we make. We strive for that perfect game, to be at our best for all aspects."

Coach Howland said it might take a sting of a loss to realize how important free-throw shooting is. Do you think that could be what it takes?

"I hope not. You never want to win from a loss. Hopefully we can know that it is important. Personally I don't think that we don't feel it is important. We're not planning on missing free throws until we lose. We're going to keep working on it in practice and we'll make them. We'll make them."

Do you think you're working too much on them? That you're putting too much pressure on it?

"I don't know really what you're referring to. As a team we always shoot free throws after practice. Me personally, I don't put that much pressure on it. Every time I step to the line, I want to go one-for-one. That's the only pressure I feel from a free-throw standpoint."

Is there a subtle pressure about being #1 and not being the one to get upset?

"I don't think we think about that during the game or before the game. We do realize we're #1 and that gives our opponent's some kind of incentive to come in here and play hard and relaxed. You feel less pressure because the expectation is for you to lose coming into our house because we're #1. That's not our expectations. We want to win every game regardless of our ranking. We really need to focus on how we can fight off that initial push from other teams, because they come in here with a lot of adrenalin and a lot of preparation. Once we get through those first minutes we tend to settle down and beat up on the teams."

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