Press Conference Notes: Coach Howland and Players at Sweet 16
NCAA MEN'S REGIONALS SEMIFINALS & FINALS: PHOENIX
March 26, 2008
Luc Richard Mbah A Moute
THE MODERATOR: We're being joined by the UCLA student-athletes.
Q. Kevin, you and Mr. Collison provide a lot of the offense. Can you talk about how maybe you need to spread it around or why that has been the case in the recent few games?
KEVIN LOVE: I will let my elder go first. Go ahead, Darren.
DARREN COLLISON: The plays are just designed for us where we had an advantage to take it upon ourselves. A couple of times we caught up with the pick-and-roll action. It was me and Kevin. I am point guard. I was supposed to create first. If I don't have it from my teammates, I will create for myself.
Kevin usually has a good position down low. It doesn't mean I can't spread it out to Josh and the rest of them who are very good shooters and Luc Richard. We have a lot of different options. They are plays designed for ourselves and we took advantage of that.
KEVIN LOVE: I agree with what Darren said. A lot of the plays are spread between us. We did score 40 out of 53 points, but we didn't even notice that until you guys touched on it after the game. Like he said, we can spread it around. Josh will start knocking down shots. He has been shooting the ball great all week. Luc's ankle is back to 100%. And Russell as well has been shooting the ball well in practice.
Q. Luc, can you talk about how you're feeling right now? I know -- I don't know if you are still recovering or how comfortable you feel out there and how comforting you are playing Thursday.
LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: I'm coming back to 100%, obviously. As far as the pain, my ankle -- the pain is less. I don't feel as much pain. And the swelling went down.
If I had to give a percentage, I would say 90, 95% hopefully by tomorrow. But I will be ready to go. I was a little rusty having not played for a week and a half. I am looking forward to coming out tomorrow and play our best against a very good team.
Q. For Kevin, can you sort of talk about the freshmen season college basketball and whether it's been what you thought it would be and with some of the outside distractions and what happened at Oregon and stuff like that, has it been what you thought? Has it been more?
KEVIN LOVE: It has been a lot of fun. Ever since I got to L.A. in July, my teammates just took me in. It has been everything I wanted it to be, even more. The school is a lot of fun, being around my teammates, being around the family environment at UCLA has been everything I expected. And touching on Oregon, that was just very controversial there, but I just kept my head high and didn't feed into anything the crowd was doing. My family was fine and we came out with a W.
Overall, the freshman season has been a lot of fun and I am having a lot of fun in college as well.
Q. Did you see where the dude who sort of gestured towards you got his car taken away by his dad? Have you heard about this?
KEVIN LOVE: I have not.
Q. The kid who sort of gave you the double whammy at Oregon, his dad saw a picture, recognized his son as a kid doing that to you and took away the kid's car.
KEVIN LOVE: Really?
Q. Yeah. Your reaction?
KEVIN LOVE: Karma is a -- and you can fill in the blank with that one (laughter). That's all I can really say about that.
Q. Darren, all these close calls you guys have had, how has that made you not likely to take people for granted, take games for granted? You're supposed to win this game. How have those experiences you have been through make you say, Anything can happen to us?
DARREN COLLISON: Coming from one of the best conference, the Pac-10 conference, every game down the stretch was a close game for us. Everybody is going to give it their best shot. There were a lot of times trying to get into the tourney at the time. So we got the team's best shots going into the tourney. Coming into the NCAA tournament, anybody can lose. You see the top teams losing to the bottom seed teams. You got to play at your best.
Like Coach said, right now seeds don't really matter. We can't overlook anybody. We just want to win. No matter how close the game is, we just want to win and get the W.
Q. The Texas A&M game, how was that in reinforcing a team like this, you can't figure you're going to beat a team just because they are seeded lower.
DARREN COLLISON: Texas A&M was a very good team. They grinded it out every possession. They got good looks. They didn't play like an 8 seed. That's what we have to understand. No matter what the seedings are, we have to play against a team that will give it their best shot.
We just want to win. No matter how we do it, we just want to get the W, close call or not. We just want to win.
Q. Against Texas A&M, I think it was late in the second half, it was tied and you kind of shot a twisting turnaround jumper that seemed like it was going to be from 10 feet that was maybe by 15 feet by the time you released it. For most people that's a low-percentage shot. Is that something that -- I mean, where does your confidence come to shoot a shot like that in a moment that big?
KEVIN LOVE: I had talked to Darren the night before. He told me the minute you think you are going to lose, you will lose the game. I felt in my mind, I kept the calmness and Darren kept talking to me whether it was on the sideline when we had a time-out or in the locker room at halftime. I just kept calm.
That shot I shot, you know, thousands and thousands of times over the course of the season in high school. I used to shoot that shot all the time. That was my training from Oregon. Usually I put it off the glass. From the angle I was at, I wanted to just try to put it in and it went down for me and I was thankful for it.
Q. Can you talk about your defense? You are known as the defensive team, and what's Kentucky's premise of a face-paced offense, they like to run. What do you do to slow them down or combat the offense? They jack it up any time they want to.
LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE: I mean, just going back to our principles. I mean, the whole season we faced teams like that in the Pac-10 a lot. Talking about Oregon, Arizona, teams like that. Transition defense is going to be key. Darren stopping the ball and making sure we are running back with their bigs.
Once we get to the half-court set, just make sure we're executing. Always the same principle. We have to win the battle of the boards. That's it.
DARREN COLLISON: Like Luc said, it is just following the rules all along. Coach been emphasizing defense since day one of practice and we have been doing it -- for the most part, we have been consistent with it. I think our defense starts our offense. We are a defensive team, like you said, and we are really active on the ball and cause a hang for other players and getting steals and have an easy point in transition. That gets us flowing on the offensive bit. When we do our defensive roles, we should be all right.
KEVIN LOVE: These both guys mostly said it. We worked on it a lot in practice this week, they running jump on ball screens. They press a lot. That's just something that we had to work on our out-of-bounds plays from full court and just beating traps, beating certain things like that.
Every time we cross half court in practice, we'd trap the ball screens and we'd trap the first pass so that's just something we had to work on. We know they will be pressuring us because they are a very good team.
Q. For Darren, which would you rather play? A team that slows it down like Texas A&M or the team that speeds it up like this?
DARREN COLLISON: The team that speeds it up. You know the answer to that one. A team that speeds it up. It is a lot of fun when we play a team that speeds it up, because there is a lot of easy points in transition and we are going up and down. We are not always walking up the ball and the other team is not walking up the ball.
Whenever a team slows it down -- not to say we can't slow in the half-court set -- it makes it a little bit boring, for the fans themselves, not that I care about the opinions, but it makes it more fun for us as well.
KEVIN LOVE: Darren said it.
THE MODERATOR: We have been joined by UCLA head coach Ben Howland.
COACH HOWLAND: We're excited to be playing. This time of the year there is only 16 teams left. I don't think that any game that's won or lost over the next two days will be considered an upset. All these teams are so even, I think it's really indicative of the parity in college basketball.
And we know we have our hands full with Western Kentucky. They're a very good team. Very sound fundamentally and very well-coached and they present a lot of problems at both ends of the floor.
Q. The end of the Texas A&M game, what now appears to be a foul, at the time a lot of people didn't see it, what was your reaction when you saw it? Does it matter? Also, you seem to have gotten several breaks by officials at the end of games. How do you guys -- I mean, obviously it is a good thing for you.
COACH HOWLAND: I don't think any one call decides a game. If you go back and watch the entire game, is any one call more important than any other call? If you were at the game or you evaluate the game -- see, as coaches we always evaluate the game by watching the film over and over.
I'm really proud of our team the way we've come back. But we're not worried about anything that's said. We're just still here, happy to be playing.
Q. Is there anything to be taken from the fact that you have been getting so much scoring from just two guys? Is that a concern? Or is that just the way it's worked out? How should we take that?
COACH HOWLAND: That happened in the last game. That's not been consistent throughout the year. I think if you look at our averages, I think we have four players that average in double figures and then one that's just under at about 9 points plus per game. So pretty good balance.
Q. (Off microphone.)
COACH HOWLAND: For us, we -- I think you are a much easier team to defend if you only have two games. In the Texas A&M game, as you pointed out, 40 of our 51 points were scored by Kevin and Darren.
Q. Coach, how many minutes do you expect Luc to play? And how confident are you that he is healthy enough? He had some rust in the last game. How comfortable are you that he is healthy enough to play like he usually does?
COACH HOWLAND: He has practiced the last two games. And we had a long practice yesterday for this time of year, probably about 1 hour 40 minutes, 1 hour 45 minutes. Practiced again today. He was very good today and tomorrow and now he will go again through the shooting. I think it has helped his timing.
Obviously when you miss a week where you don't play and get thrown out into the game at a high level like it is in the NCAA tournament it is difficult. And he definitely was rusty in the A&M game. I didn't want to chance getting reinjured in the first round because we felt we had a good chance to win without him. But we know at this point, without Luc playing major minutes, it is going to be very rough for us to advance. He has been a three-year starter. He is an integral part of what we do at both ends of the floor.
I expect him to play, hoping that he doesn't get in any kind of foul trouble, at least 30 minutes tomorrow.
Q. Could you sort of talk about Kevin's season and how -- with all the media attention and outside hoopla he's gotten, how he's handled it?
COACH HOWLAND: He has really been special as a player. He's averaged a double-double, I think in actual double-doubles per game he has 23, 24 of them. Double figures in every game, in all 36. He's really improved. And our last game against A&M, which was the biggest game of the year because if we don't win we're not here today, he had seven blocks.
Now leading up to that game, he had 40 blocks in the previous 35 games. So he has really raised his level of play as we've gone into these huge games, especially towards the end of our season. But his skill level for a kid his size is really incredible.
At 6' 9", 260 pounds, his ability to pass, see the floor, all the little nuances of passing that are so special, he's the best passing big guy that, you know, I've ever been close to or seen.
Then when you combine it with all the hoopla coming into the year, being the national player of the year, coming out of high school, all the expectations to cover of "Sports Illustrated," the huge articles in ESPN, the magazine, "Sporting News," et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, just all the attention, it really has been amazing how he's handled it so well. It is like he is a seasoned veteran and he is a senior in college and has been around for a long time as opposed to a 19-year-old kid who is going through his first year of college.
Q. You just mentioned all of Kevin's talents. In what ways do you look at him at times and you can say, okay, yeah, he is just a freshman?
COACH HOWLAND: When I am listening to him recite rap music this morning as he is getting taped in the meeting room and how he's fooling around with his teammates all the time and is just one of the kids. Just his playfulness and great personality.
I mean, he's definitely got -- he's very mature but, yet, he's still young at heart. And that's nice that he's handled it all well and, really, it has been spectacular.
I have never been around anybody who's received as much attention as he has, especially for maybe Coach Wooden. At least at 97, he has had a little experience of dealing with it as opposed to 19.
Q. When you were hired, there was sort of a philosophical debate that went around Los Angeles that said, will L.A. embrace a team that doesn't -- you know, that isn't show time, that doesn't go up and down? It seems every year, well, Josh will be back from injury and they will play more uptempo. They have Kevin and they will be more uptempo. It seems like you have been embraced. Can you talk about that philosophy a few years later, how you have been embraced and the players have knowledge that they have to play defense for you. Can you reflect on that?
COACH HOWLAND: I think we're second in the league this year, first of all, in scoring offense if you look at the stats in the Pac-10. And I am very proud of how our team performs and how they compete and how they play. At the end of the day, I think people embrace winning more than any aspect of a team. And that's been truly the case for UCLA in the last three years.
We really feel good about the support that we receive from the local community and obviously our students and fans and alums, and so I'm very excited that they feel so good about our program and are excited about how we represent them, not only on the floor but the type of kids that we have and how they represent UCLA off the floor.
We have quality young men that are good students, good human beings, good out in the community, very, very friendly to everybody. And that's important to me and I think very important to the typical UCLA fan and alum.
Q. I'm wondering how important it is for you to set tempo and pace early and what you can do to kind of establish the pace that you want in that game.
COACH HOWLAND: Well, we don't want them to run up and down on us from a defensive standpoint. And they're very capable of running the ball because of the little quick point guard Brazelton. They really push it. They run the floor. They fill the lane. So we got to do a good job in transition getting back. And then we've got to do a good job attacking their presses. We want to be able to handle the ball and take care of it.
They're a very good team. Again, I was speaking earlier in the other room that I was watching Tennessee film for the first time late last night, early this morning. And really impressed with how well they played against an outstanding Tennessee team. I mean, Tennessee is a team that obviously has been there all year and has been ranked number one. They're right there. It is a one-point game with two minutes to go. That game could have gone either way December 22nd. And I think it was played in Nashville. Really, really impressed.
So they're a team, as is any team that's left in this tournament right now, that can beat anybody. We know if we don't play our very best tomorrow, it will be our last game of the year.
Q. How much have all these close encounters that you've had made you ready for this kind of competition and in terms of your confidence and poise no matter what the situation?
COACH HOWLAND: This team has been through a lot of close games, not only late this season but the last three years. We've won more than we lost in close games. And I think that's the sign of a good team and a good program.
These kids, they believe themselves. They have no quit in them. They never seem to get rattled. We were down 10 against Texas A&M with 17 minutes to go and came back and found a way. We were down 14 or 16 against Stanford at home late in the year. We were down to USC 8 or 10 in the semifinals, down 6 in the finals of our conference tournament. So we've had a lot of close games. Down to Cal late in the game and won it on a miraculous last-second shot by Josh Shipp.
These kids have a real strong belief in each other, in themselves and they know the game's never over either way until it is 0:00, that we have to close games out when we do have a lead late in the game.
Q. You must think referees are doing a heck of a job this year down the stretch.
COACH HOWLAND: I think that the officiating and the job of officiating is always difficult. It's always prone to human error. You know they're going to make mistakes throughout the game. And I always try to keep my cool and not react when we get a bad call that goes against us.
And it is interesting that there seems like that there's been an idea that there's some kind of conspiracy theory that's helping UCLA with the officials. I hope that's true, but I assure you that it's not.
(photo credit: AP)
Labels: Team Misc News