Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Press Conference Notes Final Four: Coach Ben Howland

By Bruin Basketball Report

Prior to leaving with the team for Atlanta, UCLA Coach Ben Howland participated in a Q&A with media.

Q&A with UCLA Coach Ben Howland

Q. How much time did you spend in your summer dwelling on that
championship game loss, looking at the tapes, so forth? What did you
learn from it?

COACH HOWLAND: You know, I was obviously
disappointed we lost the game, but I was also very proud of our team
last year, all that they accomplished. There's only one team that's
going to be truly happy at the end of the year, and that's the team
that wins on Monday night.

That didn't diminish the great year we had last year. Of course, you
always try to learn from games that you lose, from defeat, from
adversity. You watch the tape. There's a lot of things. Just about
everything we could have done better, but also have to credit Florida,
the great game they played a year ago, how they handled every aspect,
phase of the game.

Q. If you look around this tournament, prevailing theme is the size
with Hibbert, Oden, Noah, Horford. You have Mbah a Moute. How do you
see the role of the big man evolving? What do you think the NBA age
limit plays on that?

COACH HOWLAND: You threw Luc in there, a
7'2" guy, a seven-footer, a couple of 6'11" guys. Luc is 6'7". We are
by far the smallest team in this last remaining Final Four.

I think it's great to see the big man in college basketball. UCLA
boasts possibly the two greatest big men at the college level ever in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. Those were obviously special eras
where players stayed for four years of college. In fact, both of them
weren't eligible to play as freshmen.
Today a much different landscape with kids that were allowed to go
straight to the pros right out of high school until just two years ago.

I think it's great for the college game. I don't think it's fair to the
student-athlete that they don't have the right to go right out of high
school to the pros. I do like the idea if a player does go to college,
then he's got to stay for two years, but if he goes right out of high
school, that's his right, and I understand that.

We have a number of young men representing this country around the
world, in the Armed Forces, that are 17, 18, 19 years old. I have great
respect for them. I think it's been great for college basketball to
have Oden have to go to college for a year. Dwight Howard would have
been in that same situation a couple years ago. LeBron James. I don't
know how long they'll remain. I like the idea for them to go to
college. Kind of like college baseball, except I think they have to go
for three years.

Q. What is it that makes Darren Collison so special? Has his
improvement been that significant this year? Was he that good last

COACH HOWLAND: Darren had a great year for us last year
as a freshman, playing 19 minutes a game. Had some big games for us
where he made huge plays. At Michigan he made some huge plays. He was
outstanding at Arizona a year ago as a freshman. Those are three that
come to mind against very good opponents.

He's also just normal maturation from freshman to a sophomore, having
gained all the experience. Compound it and combine it with the fact
that he worked very, very hard in the off-season between his freshman
and sophomore year.

One of the things he really improved on was his shooting. I think last
year he was in the low 30s from three, now he's at 46%, which is an
incredible jump, and a real credit to his work ethic, his desire to be
the very best.

Q.  Other than being top seeds, what common traits do you see among these Final Four teams, comebacks or anything else?
COACH HOWLAND: The common traits are that they've all had outstanding
years, come out of power conferences where you're tested every night
you go on the road in the PAC-10 or at home. The same is true in the
Big East, in the SEC, obviously in the Big-10.

Also in the Big 12 and the ACC.  Those six conferences really force those players, those programs, to bring it every day.

It's very, very competitive. Our league boasted six teams that went to
the NCAA tournament this year. Oregon played Florida tough; were in the
Elite 8. Obviously SC was in the Sweet 16. Washington State was very
close to Vanderbilt, double overtime loss. I think that's helped all
four of the teams get to where they are, is being pushed throughout the
season by the competition within their own league.

Q. You went against Georgetown for a while before moving out west.
What was missing during those years for that Georgetown program? What
do you think they got back now?

COACH HOWLAND: John Thompson,
III is doing just a terrific job, both recruiting, where it all starts
from. Those Georgetown teams when I was at Pitt were good. One year
they went to the Sweet 16, went to Boise. I can't remember who they
played, who finally beat them. They had a very good team. Seems like
Georgetown always has a lot of big guys year in and year out. They
continue to have that during my tenure there. Sweeney I always loved as
a player. They had very good players.

I think John Thompson, III has definitely proven he's one of the very
best coaches in the country in a short time at the high major level.
His time having played for Pete Carril, having coached at Princeton,
has influenced him to where I think they have a great system that is
very difficult to prepare for.
You have to commend what an outstanding job the players and coach have done there in that program.

Q. Last year Arron Afflalo had a difficult time shaking Corey
Brewer in the title game. Did that motivate him to improve? What
improvements has he made this year?

had a problem, not just Arron. Our whole team had a problem with
Florida last year in the championship game. They thoroughly dominated
us in that game. I don't think there's any secret about that.

But you have to credit their whole team, not just Corey. It's a team
defense that wins and a team on offense that wins. Although Corey I
think is a great player. Arron was definitely motivated more than
anything by the loss of his team in the championship game to come back
and be better this year.
I think he's better off the bounce this year. I think he continues to
do a better job reading screens. I think he's done a better job at
playing without the basketball. I think he continues to take great
pride in his defense, guarding the other team's players.

Q.  Could you talk about how different you are from last year when you played against Florida, how different your team is?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, we're different in that we're a year older.
There's six players on this team currently that played in that game
last year. Four really significant minutes. We had Josh Shipp who was
there but wasn't applying for us. We've added two freshmen.

The biggest thing is just a year of experience, getting a year older, a
year of maturity. But I don't know that that gives us any great
advantage over Florida in that they have everybody back starting from
there team a year ago.

I'm so impressed at the Florida team. When you look at their numbers,
the numbers are just shocking. The balance, number one, of having five
starters that all average in double figures. They shoot 40% from three.
The way to equate that is like shooting 60% from two. Twelve points on
four shots out of ten, shooting 60% from two, that's how I look at a
three-point shot. Then they shoot 59.8% inside of three as a team.

Basically they're shooting 60% from the field as a team, the way I look
at it. Then they also are holding their opponents to 40%. That's a 20%
differential between the two teams. They outboard their opponents by
seven boards a game, which is incredible. Their blocked shots, 185, are
just really, really impressive. They outscore their opponents by 17
points a game. They force a number of turnovers.
They're the No. 1 overall seed.  Deservedly so.

Q. Is too much being made of your team's desire, being motivated
because of losing in that championship game last year? How much has it
driven them since that game?

COACH HOWLAND: I think the
motivation is to win. Again, we were very, very proud of our team last
year, disappointed in the last game last season, but overall had a
great year. There are only four teams that get to make it to this each
and every year. It's a great honor to be in the Final Four.

Our team is motivated to do its very best, to play the best that we can
possibly play. We're more concerned about UCLA than anything else about
trying to reach our potential and be the best team that we can be.

Q. You look at the team, all five starters are back from last year,
but Billy Donovan says they're a different team because of the
experiences. Can you see a difference now going back to the
championship game, something in the way they play?

HOWLAND: I would say when he uses the word "differently" I would say --
they're better than they were a year ago. I guess that is different.
They've even taken it to a new level.

Again, you have to commend them so much. To be the defending national
champion, have all five starters back, to go through and have the kind
of year they've had, with everybody shooting at 'em because they're No.
1, is quite a feat in its own right.

As you read their comments about how it was harder this year, I'm sure
it was because everybody coming at 'em. Yet they dominated the SEC. The
SEC had three teams in the Sweet 16. They're just an incredible team.

Billy is obviously a great coach who has really done a great job at
both ends of the floor, off the floor, in helping these kids reach
their potential.

Q.  You're different and better as well from last year.  In what ways?
COACH HOWLAND: I think the biggest way is our experience level. I think
we're better in terms of having gone through a successful campaign a
year ago, and now another one this year. Just being a year older, a
year more experience. You all see, for example, the change that we
talked about in Darren Collison earlier in this conversation.

One of the reasons that he's better than he was, he's a year older. He
worked hard in the off-season. A year of maturity, going from a
freshman to a sophomore. In the case of Noah and Horford, sophomore to
juniors. Each year good players continue to improve and get better.
That's what good players do.

We have very good players. Obviously they have great players. It's a
thing where I think experience really matters, especially when you're
having experience in a successful framework where you're winning,
getting to conference championships and getting a chance to move on to
the NCAA tournament.

(photo credit: AP)



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