Monday, March 26, 2007

Wooden: 2007 Bruins Defense Is Better

By Bill Dwyre

Los Angeles Times

(reprinted with permission)

Legendary UCLA coach rates Howland's double-teaming style better than the Bruins' mid-1960s brand

Ben Howland can win the NCAA title this Monday in Atlanta. He is well aware of that, as is all of college basketball.

What he isn't aware of is that he has already won a basketball coaches'
lottery, something priceless. It comes in the form of a quote, uttered
Sunday night by college basketball's greatest coach ever.

"I don't think my teams played as good a defense as Ben's teams," John Wooden said.

Wooden is 96 and exaggerates now as much as he ever did. Which is
never. He has no hidden agendas. He loves his Bruins but can still look
at them objectively, as he looks at all of life. He still watches
games, either in person or on TV, like a biology teacher with a frog.
Others see, Wooden dissects.

Wooden coached UCLA to 10 NCAA titles, and he says Howland's teams play
better defense. Read it again. Let it sink in. You hear something like
that from Dick Vitale, you turn the volume down. From Wooden, spoken
softly and presented matter-of-factly, it is a wow.

Wooden won't be in Atlanta this weekend for the Bruins' run at the
title. He will be in Kentucky early in the week for a high school event
that he committed to, and that's enough travel for him for one week.
He'll be back Thursday, ready to watch a team and a coach he's grown
quite fond of.

"I don't get all ruffled up, at least not on the outside," Wooden said.
"But when things aren't going well for them, I'm hurting inside."

In a lengthy interview, Wooden says he has been impressed with how
Howland builds programs, noting that, in each of his head-coaching jobs
— at Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh and now UCLA — he struggled in the
first season and then brought rapid improvement.

"I think here, in his first season, he couldn't get the players to buy into what he wanted," Wooden said. "Now, they have.

"I've always said, in any sport, defense most often will be the
deciding factor. I still love to watch a 1-0 or 2-1 baseball game.

"Players always want to play offense more than defense, but Ben's got
them understanding the job. We never doubled on the ball as much as Ben
does. He just took the big kids from Pitt out of the game the other
night doing that. When I watch his team, I see good fundamentals, and
you know how much I like to see that. I like the way they keep the
floor balanced."

Wooden said his teams, for the most part, played a version of a triangle-and-two defense.

"We'd play three men man-to-man and let the other two float and zone,"
Wooden said, adding that his mid-'60s teams — the Fred Slaughter, Gail
Goodrich, Jack Hirsch years — were as close as any of his teams to the
sort of defensive attacking Howland's teams play.

"I didn't want to do that when I had Lewis [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] and
later when I had Bill [Walton]," Wooden said. "But [in the years]
between them, we'd go at it like that."

Wooden says he worries about a hot-shooting team counteracting UCLA's double teams.

"Something has to be open when you do that," he said. "Indiana got hot against us."

Wooden also worries about the sometimes helter-skelter nature of
today's game and admits to getting nervous watching Bruins point guard
Darren Collison, as Collison repeatedly drives the middle.

"In practice, I used to put a chair on the free-throw line," Wooden
said. "That's where I wanted the penetration to stop, that's where I
wanted the passes to start from. Now, of course, if you can get a
layup, certainly you do it."

Wooden says he likes the Bruins' game pace. One of his tenets is to be quick but don't hurry.

"We've been behind in a number of games this year," he said, "but I've been liking a lot how we never hurried."

He said he saw the opposite in the Bruins' regional game against Kansas
and that he was surprised how the Jayhawks, as good a team as they
were, hurried too much and got a bit out of control.

"I call that activity without achievement," Wooden said.

He says he understands the game is different now, that things such as
the shot clock and the three-point arc have changed some of the
strategy. He says he doesn't want any of his observations to be taken
as criticism. He also says he is amazed, and somewhat disappointed, at
how physical the game has become, and how much the referees let go.

"My daughter, Nan, made an interesting observation the other night,"
Wooden said. "She said she couldn't ever remember seeing so many
players down on the floor."

Last year, while Howland and the Bruins were making their run all the
way to a loss to Florida in the national title game, Wooden was ill and
eventually hospitalized with an attack of diverticulitis that, it was
eventually revealed, was serious enough to be life-threatening.

Now, he is feeling as fine as one can at 96, staying as active as you
can when all the cartilage in your knees is gone, enjoying dozens of
grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and continuing to make more
public commitments and appearances than daughter Nan would prefer.

And yes, he still drives. His 1988 Ford Taurus — "It's really an '89
because I got it in December of '88," he says — has some trips ahead
down the street for breakfast and lunch at some of his favorite
restaurants in the Valley. The odometer reading, now at 36,000 miles,
might someday hit that magic 40,000 mark.

"My driver's license renewal came, and I've got five more years," Wooden said. "Guess I'm going to have to live to 101."

Don't bet against it.


Bill Dwyre can be reached at

(photo credit: Christine Cotter / LAT)



At Mar 27, 2007, 4:58:00 AM, Anonymous Scott Blake said...

What a gem!

At Mar 27, 2007, 7:45:00 AM, Anonymous Damon said...

How about the other article in today's Times on the Florida players' lack of knowledge about UCLA and Wooden?

At Mar 27, 2007, 7:45:00 AM, Anonymous Damon said...

How about the other article in today's Times on the Florida players' lack of knowledge about UCLA and Wooden?

At Mar 27, 2007, 8:06:00 AM, Anonymous Bruin Basketball Report said...

You're referring to the Plaschke article in the LAT.
I think the UCLA faithful are more ruffled about the Gators players' lack of knowledge of Bruin basketball history. Frankly, I don't think UCLA players care what Florida players know about their illustrious past -- they just want to beat them on Saturday!
From the Florida pressors I've seen since the match-ups were set, aside from Yannick's son's "Us Against the World" attitude, the Florida players and coaches have been careful about what they say about the UCLA team.
But of course...there are still four more days until tip-off.


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