Howland/Starters on the Dais Friday

Head Coach Ben Howland and his five starters took questions from the media Friday at the US Airways Center, talking about the Western Kentucky game, and how that reflects on the upcoming Elite Eight game against Xavier on Saturday...

Q. Darren, the concentration lapses that you guys have had this year, for a veteran team -- or an experienced team that might be kind of rare. What do you think has caused them throughout the season?

DARREN COLLISON: I think it is lose sight of focus. It happens in the game of basketball. You try to play consistent basketball throughout the whole season. Then you have nicks and bruises throughout the whole season. But the best thing about basketball, you bounce back and live through your mistakes. I thought this team has done a good job of that.

Last game, I took full responsibility the way we played. We didn't play nearly as well. As the leader of this team, I didn't play nearly as well. I let my team down. It is all bouncing back and going from here.

Q. Kevin, how much of a sense of urgency do you think you guys have? Do you think you have enough or do you need more?

KEVIN LOVE: I think so. We definitely need it because every game we need that urgency just because we know if we lose one and other team wins by one point, we're done for the season. So we're definitely going to need that sense urgency coming down the stretch because Xavier is a very good team. From Lavender, their point guard, all the way down to Duncan, their big man. We will have to come to play tomorrow and be on our A game.

Q. What have you learned from the controversy of the last couple of games that you hope will help you in tomorrow night's contest? Because as Kevin mentioned, once before you've gone to the well maybe once too many times.

JOSH SHIPP: We had the close game. We had the game where we had the lead and the other team came back. I just think it is just being battle tested. We've experienced it both ways, and I think we just have confidence to know we can win the game regardless of the situation and we stay in the game and play hard on defense, we have a chance to win them.

KEVIN LOVE: Coach Howland has mentioned throughout the season with a lot of the wins we have had to come from behind or stuck it out in the end, we always have the sense or the feeling that we're going to win the game. Just knowing that will help us a lot, like Josh mentioned, gives us a lot of confidence no matter what the situation and we're feeling good about that.

LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: They said it all. We have been in situations before, so going down the stretch, we always know we are going to come back and the team always has that spirit and that energy and it helps us a lot.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Like Luc said, they said it all. We just got to do what we need to do. Sometimes we come out a little sluggish, but this team has a lot of fight in them and never gives up.

DARREN COLLISON: Definitely. It is about not quitting. This team has learned that we're always going to fight to the end. Of course, we like to blow teams out. At this time of the tournament every team will give it their best shot. I think that's what we learned for the most part.

Q. When each of you got three and four fouls fairly early in the second half, do you think you pulled back a little bit even if it was subconsciously to try not to get fouls and is that part of why the defense maybe wasn't as aggressive?

DARREN COLLISON: Definitely it is back of your head that you have three or four fouls. I don't think I did that down the stretch, in terms of the getting fouled out of the game. Yeah, every time you get in foul trouble, you can't play as aggressive as you want to play. You start to play a little tentative. I think that's when the opposing team, they start to notice that and start taking advantage of that.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK: I know I had four fouls and I was playing a little tentative. Coach told me I need to stay to finish the game off. Sometimes defense comes off a little bit, but it is just something you got to fight through.

JOSH SHIPP: Any time you get those fouls, you definitely try to play smarter and not pick up a foul. Sometimes you have to let a few things go. I mean, you definitely try to stay in the game knowing your team needs you out there.

Q. Kevin, you guys have had a lot of size all year and now at the end of the year James Keefe has come on really strong. I wonder if you can talk about what that means to you and to the team.

KEVIN LOVE: Well, he's helping us big-time. He is at his best when his best is needed. He is playing as an X factor for us. Showing up playing great games in the tournament. Also in the Pac-10 tournament as well. If we can keep that going, keep that streak alive, that will be huge for us down the stretch and against Xavier as well.

Q. Kevin, I wondered if there was anything about being a high-profile player at a high-profile program that isn't great all the time or is tiring, maybe the lack of privacy? Is there any part about it that's not always fun?

KEVIN LOVE: I feel like it comes with the territory. We have a lot of high-profile guys on our team and they can mention all five of them here, up in the locker room as well. Privacy is sometimes an issue but it comes with the territory. It is something you have to live with. Not make mistakes. I feel like I am a good character kid and raised up by a good family. Other than that, I'm just living -- living the dream here playing for UCLA.

Q. What sort of challenges does Drew Lavender present for you?

DARREN COLLISON: Good point guard play. I don't think he turns the ball over a lot. Any time you have a good point guard play, you go far in the tournament.
Obviously he led his team to the Elite Eight for a reason. I have to understand that. You can pressure him at times, but you can't expect much. He is a senior. He is a leader on the team. And I got to be able to stay poised on defense.

Q. Can you talk about playing against a team that plays man-to-man defense and plays a slower tempo that might be more well-suited to you guys.

RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Xavier is a good team. They wouldn't be in the Elite Eight for nothing. Same style of play. We just got to come out and play our game. They are going to play theirs and we'll see what happens.

Q. In the locker room several guys were saying you thought you all in the second half lost focus a little bit. For those of us who don't play, how is it possible to lose focus in a game this big, this important?

KEVIN LOVE: I don't know necessarily if we lost focus. We just -- we let up a little bit. Players got in foul trouble and we were a little bit careless with the ball.
Other than that, we got the W. We pulled out with the win in the end. We hit our free throws. We can't keep letting up like that because we know that whether we were to get past tomorrow, move onto the Final Four, there's going to be a lot of good teams. Everybody from here on out is very good. This is March Madness, so anything can happen. We have to come out, like I mentioned a couple times, and be on our A game.

Q. Darren, you haven't had much foul trouble this year, especially the guards. What happened -- what caused it last night, do you think?

DARREN COLLISON: I think just being a little bit too aggressive at times. I know at times I had three fouls, I was supposed to play with my hands in my pocket, be a little bit smarter. And, again, a stupid foul. The last foul was a stupid foul as well.
I just got to play smarter. In that situation, I have to be in that game, especially when they are pressing like that. I have to be in that situation with my teammates out there. But most importantly, all you can do on the bench is support them. I am thankful they got the win out.

Q. Everyone keeps talking about focus, and that's such a broad term. What exactly are you talking about? Is it effort? Is it attention to detail? Is it focusing different things out? What is that?

DARREN COLLISON: I think it is all of the above. You know, in this stage you got to be attention to detail, you got to be focused. You got to be prepared. The minute you lose sight or lose focus of what you have to do, teams are going to punish you. Especially in the Elite Eight. Teams are good enough to punish you for your own mistakes. Any time you do let down, teams will capitalize and go for it.

Q. Luc, how is your ankle today? Just the daily question on how it came back from last night.

LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: My ankle is great. Feels really good.

Q. Is it swollen?

LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: No, it is not swollen. It feels really good.

Q. Luc, my ankle feels good, but I am not wearing a boot. You have got a boot on. What does that have to do?

LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: That's just precautionary. Other than that, my ankle is good. I was able to go to walk-through today. Everything feels fine.

Q. Coach Howland, your first head coaching job was a couple hours up the road at NAU. Can you talk about what you learned about being the head coach there.

COACH HOWLAND: It was a great experience, number one, raising a family in Flagstaff. We were there for five years and my daughter Meredith and my son Adam and my wife Kim really enjoyed living there. And it was a great experience. It was building a program from the floor up. In other words, when I actually got the job, there were, at that time, 309 schools, I believe, thereabouts, that had played a division 1 schedule the previous decade and NAU was in the bottom ten of all 300-plus schools in winning percentage. So we had a long way to go. And it was a rough road.

When you move over to that 12 inches from that assistant coaching position to the head coach, it is a big difference because you are now responsible. That was the beginning of me formulating how we were going to play and understanding that every different job has a profile-type kid that fits that job.

At Northern Arizona, for example, we took shooters. What I decided was we were going to recruit kids from towns that wouldn't have a problem living in a town of 30,000 people in the snow. So we went to places like Hobbs, New Mexico, and Loveland, Colorado, and Snow Junior College in Ephraim, Utah. We went to Visalia, California. We got a couple players from in the Valley, Casey Frank was one of them. Chico, California. We led the country in three-point shootings three years in a row there and had a couple big kids who probably shouldn't have been that level, probably should have been higher. Dan McClintock was notably drafted in the second round.

And then at Pitt we changed up because now we could get athletes, we were recruiting city kids because it was a northeastern city. So I can't even go into all the things I learned. But it was a lot and it was a great experience, and I really enjoyed my time at Northern Arizona University.

Q. When things started to unravel last night you called a couple time-outs to settle things down. When teams go on another run, when you guys lose your focus a little bit, what are you trying to tell your team to snap them back into place?

COACH HOWLAND: It just depends on each game. Last night I think the thing that fueled Western Kentucky's ability to get back in the game were our poor shot selections. We had leads where we were coming down, up 17, up 18 and taking quick, hurried shots and not understanding time and score. When you're up 17, 18 points, we're in no hurry. Now, we'll attack if they're so out of control with their pressure that allows easy baskets. But that's basically what I was talking about last night, trying to get the shot selection part under control. And we were in a little bit of a hurt because we had the foul trouble issues. But every game is different, so it can't generalize what you talk about in a time-out in every game that was last night.

Q. I was asking Kevin about handling the responsibility of who he is and the attention. I was wondering how you see him handle it day-to-day being Kevin Love. Does anything stand out?

COACH HOWLAND: Just how he has handled it so well. It is an incredible amount of attention and pressure. And I thought, you know, in November it got to a point where we had to start saying -- he was getting requests every day of the week. He was doing photo shoots at midnight for magazine covers. So it was going seven days a week.

Finally we got it real reeled back in so it was more realistic for him to attend school and take care of his responsibilities academically. To have a, quote-unquote, seminormal life without constantly having to have an interview or a photo shoot every day of the week. But he has handled it all. He came with it. He knew it, and it is really -- it is incredible to me -- I said that the other day. He is 19 years old and he acts like he is a seasoned veteran that's been around for 20 years when he's only been around for 19.

Q. When Darren fouled out and with Russell close to it, what is your third option at point guard?

COACH HOWLAND: Josh.

Q. Josh?

COACH HOWLAND: Yeah.

Q. Has he played that much in practice?

COACH HOWLAND: No. But I have confidence that he can do it. He actually did it, I think, a bit two years ago when -- I forget Jordan Farmar was hurt or something. He played it for a minute. Aaron was our backup point guard. Maybe it was his freshman year. That's what it was. We had really no backup for Jordan Farmar, so Aaron was the backup and then the third was Josh, and we used Josh there once in a while.

Q. When you hear your players talk about loss of focus, what does that make you think? Do you -- second part of the question is, is there a concern that sometimes there is such -- you are such a hype team that some of these kids buy into that maybe?

COACH HOWLAND: I don't buy that for a minute. Our guys know that anybody can beat us on a given day. The flip side of that is I think we can beat anybody on a given day. We got to be ready to play. And loss of focus, I don't know if it was that. I just think it was -- you know, emotionally, we were so ready to play and jumped on them. Were up 21 at the half. We didn't have that same fire and I really tried to address it at halftime because I knew they were going to make a run. And then what really fueled it were the foul troubles and the bad shots. I thought we made some horrendous selections of our shots early in the possessions and that hurts. And they came out and you got to give Western Kentucky credit. They're a good team. They were there last night for a reason. They're very, very good.

Q. You said yesterday you knew Sean Miller's father John from Blackhawk High School. Is that from your days at Pitt or longer than that?

COACH HOWLAND: Just the days at Pitt. I met Sean at about that same time. We tried to recruit one of John's players who actually ended up going to Ohio State. A kid name Brandon Fuss-Cheatham. I got to know John then. He used to run camps. He's got a big camp business that he runs. Drills For Skills, I believe it's called. My son attended his camp. He does a real nice job. He is a very good coach. You guys remember him. He had Sean started at an early age. Sean Miller was on the Johnny Carson show doing his little dribbling exhibition back when he was, like, 4 years old or whatever. That's kind of cool for me because I enjoyed Johnny. (Smiling).

Q. You look at Xavier, they have the Josh Duncan guy. He is a lot like Kevin Love in that he can step out and hit shots. Can you just talk about that's where college basketball is headed, those kind of forwards that can step out and play under the basket? And how much of a matchup problem is that for teams?

COACH HOWLAND: It is a problem, he is a very good three-point shooter, Duncan is. He has a great post-up game around the basket. He is a very good, clever player around the basket. He also obviously -- they run plays for him. They run sets just to get him wide-open shots from 3. He picks and pops. They flare for him to get catches. He slips. He is a very intelligent player when you watch him on tape, Duncan is. So he is just a good player. When you see the next level guys in the NBA, the guys that are practicing in this gym, there is a lot of them that are similar to that that can post up and play with their back to the basket. They can face up and shoot it, that have skills to pass and bounce it. That's when you get a great player, like Kevin and like Josh.

Q. Semi-facetious question. Last night you said something about the fans -- trying to keep them on the edge of their seat.

COACH HOWLAND: That was a joke.

Q. I understand. I have been wondering, you have a fan in L.A. that got out of the hospital, Coach Wooden. Do you think he can take all these close calls?

COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, I think he's been through enough games in his life time now. He's the best, though. I really enjoy knowing that he is watching his team, and this is his program. And we all are very much aware of that, that he is the one.
So I am excited he's back home now and is doing much better.

Q. Did you talk to him?

COACH HOWLAND: I talked to him Sunday.

Q. Does he plan to go to the Final Four?

COACH HOWLAND: No, he won't be going to the Final Four regardless of what happens with us one way or another.

Q. This is a year when a lot of coaches from smaller teams or smaller conferences start to think about taking bigger jobs. You obviously went through that process and now you have arguably the best job in the country. Can you talk about how important it was taking that step to Pittsburgh, being in the Big East and how that prepared you for where you are at now?

COACH HOWLAND: It was just an unbelievable blessing that Steve Pederson, the athletic director at Pitt, hired me from Northern Arizona to come all the way to Pitt and the Big East conference. It is an incredible process how that happened.
And still amazes me. That's really how I had a chance to get this job because now I was in a major conference and we did real well. We won a couple championships in that league, were ranked in the top ten my last two years and went to a couple Sweet 16s. So I will always be very thankful to Steve Pederson to give that opportunity along with Mark Nordenberg at the University of Pittsburgh, who is also a good friend.

Q. Is there something that you could give kind of advice to -- some of these younger coaches that -- what about a job like Pittsburgh was attractive to you? Are there some jobs that maybe they need to be wary of? What kind of --

COACH HOWLAND: I think when you are looking at other jobs, number one, there is a lot of things that go into it because my whole focus was having a chance to win.
Now, when I went and met with Steve Pederson, they had the new building on the horizon, and when I went to visit University of Pittsburgh, I never saw the building I coached in for three years, Fitzgerald Fieldhouse. I maybe would have been a little hesitant. It was a good move by Steve. But the promise of the building was there.
It is the Big East tradition, history of having good basketball. So, you know, for a guy coming from the Big Sky conference it was a great opportunity. What was funny, he was rebuked and made fun of for hiring some goof from Northern Arizona, to come out and coach in the Big East. I am glad it ended up working out for the University of Pittsburgh.


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