Here are excerpts from Ben Howland's Tuesday press conference.
Any changes to the lineup?
“Yes. It could maybe change here in the next two days before we play on Thursday, but yesterday in practice we had Brian Morrison at the two-guard, replacing Dijon (Thompson) in the starting lineup. But that’s really to get us off to a better start defensively. When you go back and look at what we’ve been doing in the last five games, our rebound margin is a -8 almost. Our field goal percentage defense in our nine wins was under 40%. In our last five losses it’s almost 50%. Those are the two things that we talked about that we can control most. The things we have most control over to get back in the winning way is to defend better and rebound better. If we look at the things that are hurting us most in this losing streak it’s those two things. We’re not defending well and we’re not rebounding well. That’s the most important thing for me. Brian brings a sense of toughness, he blocks out well. Even though he’s not 100%, it’s just that attitude of toughness and actually playing that way out there on the floor I think will help us. It’s not going to change the minutes Dijon will receive much I think. He’ll still have to come in and give us an offensive weapon when he comes in the game. We maybe could have started someone else or made another move but we’re going to keep our best rebounders in there. Right now, Trevor Ariza is our best rebounder on the year, and T.J. Cummings is in conference. When we played our best ball in conference, T.J. had forty rebounds in that four-game stretch between Oregon and Arizona State. We need him to get back to that same level he was playing there for a while for us to be our best.”
How do you get your players to get back to that level?
“It’s just something that we have to continue to emphasize, talk about, push them in practice. We’re going to end up going smaller, too. After our defense and rebounding, our biggest problem has been attacking zones. We’re going to have to go small at times. In many ways our best zone attack is with Trevor at the four, with Morrison and Dijon at the wings, along with Cedric Bozeman, and either Ryan Hollins or Michael Fey inside. Going small and getting another perimeter shooter out there is something we have to do as well.”
Would T.J. play the five?
“He could play both, against teams that play a zone. I think yesterday in practice, and even in the first half against St. John’s when we had Trevor inside, he did a good job of catching the ball, passing it, reversing it, getting to the rim, even though a couple of times he had shots blocked. If he had shot-faked, he would have gotten fouled for sure, and he could see that going back and watching the film. The most important thing against a zone is to how someone on the interior who can catch, face the defense and pass. You have to have good skills to do that. Really on our team there are two guys that do that well. Trevor and Ced.”
Are you talking about taking out the center or taking T.J. out?
“Well, either way. Just the fact it would put Trevor at the four. I think Ryan Hollins has been our most consistent player over the last two games, in terms of effort. He played really hard, and he’s really showing signs of improvement as the season has progressed. I’m happy about that. I want it to continue. I think he has learned. Ryan is a kid who didn’t start on his high school team as a junior. He’s someone who’s coming on later, and I’m pleased with how he’s coming on here late in the season. I thought he played with the most fire, and really did a good job against USC. Even though his numbers weren’t great against St. John’s, he was competing. He’s in there with effort. I want to see effort. I want to see guys trying and playing as hard as they can. That’s what’s rewarded – play as hard as you can.”
In the St. John’s game, were you disappointed in the effort?
“First of all, St. John’s played well. That little Ingram came down and pulled up. I don’t think I ever remember anyone coming down and pulling up from three in a full-tilt fast break and knocking down treys. He really did it in the first half and made some tough shots. It probably was my fault. We played zone, feeling that we didn’t really match up well with their guards. That’s one of the reasons for putting Morrison back in the lineup, getting someone who can match up with the two-guard. Dijon is probably more effective in guarding a three than a two, in terms of quickness. We didn’t do a good job defensively, and we really didn’t do a good job rebounding. You get beat by that many boards, that’s really horrible. They took it right to us.”
What’s happened that turned the team from playing well?
“Like I said, we’ve gotten away from what we were doing well early, and that was defending and rebounding. No matter what happens in other aspects of the game, if you defend and rebound you always give yourself a chance.”
Is there a reason why this team has gotten away from that?
“I think part of it is getting down early in games, instead of having the experience of not trying to get it all back by myself kind of attitude, and to actually be patient. You can see guys quick-shooting when they’re down ten, and then all of a sudden it gets to 20. If we had gotten to halftime against USC down ten instead of 20, we would have had a great shot to win that game. It just keeps snowballing. Often times it’s mistakes. Like the last game, it’s 28-20, and we have the ball, and Janou Rubin is going to try to throw a homerun pass over the top to I think Trevor that wasn’t even close. They come down, Ingram pulls up on a dime and hits a three. Now it’s 11, instead of having the ball down eight. That’s just a poor decision. That snoballs.”
Do you find yourself weighing what you want to do for the long-term against what you could do right now to win?
“I think I tried to do that a little bit with the zone in our last two games. I think the zone helped us against USC, and it hurt us againt St. John’s. You have to be committed to playing zone and working on it. Against St. John’s we were making mistakes in a 2-3 zone because we haven’t sat down and taught it all year. We lost to Arizona, a very good team, a top 20 team. We lost to Stanford, the #2 team, one of two undefeated teams in the country. Great team. Then we lose to Cal, a game that we had a chance to win. It’s a four-point game with four minutes to go. We had the lead twice in the second half. We were right there, even if the score is not indicative of that. Then the USC game we were really poor in that first half but then showed some life and came back and fought. But when I go back and look back at those first three games in this five-game skid, we lost to two really good teams and then lost a game we had a chance to win. We just have to get back to doing what we were doing early in the year: defend and rebound. You have to be able to hang your hat on that. You can control that. You have control of that as a team and an individual, and we have to do that. And we have to do a better job at attacking zones.”
How has Thompson reacted to the change?
“I think he came out and practiced hard yesterday. He, likes everybody else, wants to win. I met with each kid on our team yesterday for about 15 minutes. I spoke to each kid about what we have to do. I spoke to the team yesterday. We had a good practice and practiced hard yesterday. I think we made some positive strides yesterday in terms of our practice.”
Do you do that, meeting with your players, all the time?
“Periodically. Every year, every team. To give them, hey, here’s where we are, this is what I expect. Each guy may have some different things individually. I also want to talk to them about where they are academically. We’ve missed a number of class days, with the travel we’ve been doing. It was more than anything focused on how we’re going to get going again here and get off the skid we’re on right now.”
Is defense and rebounding mostly about effort and competitiveness?
“You also have to be athletic enough to stay in front of the ball. We made a lot of mistakes in the SC game. Two of the first three possessions of the game, one of the Cravens went right around Ced at the top of the key and got to the basket and got fouled. Trevor got shook by Desmon Farmer, which is something he has to get better at. He wants to reach for the ball, and then when he misses, the guy goes right around him and gets to the basket. Those guys are both quick enough to stay in front of the ball. They just have to have enough discipline not to reach when someone shows you the ball. Every time they get shown the ball and they miss the guy’s going by them. There are limitations athletically for players to stay in front of certain players. That’s why I think Dijon sometimes has limitations in guarding other twos, certain twos from other teams. There are limitations inside. If you have to guard Stanford’s Robert Little and he’s 265 and you’re 215, there are certain things you give up in terms of size and strength inside as well. Same thing with Justin Davis. Same thing with Channing Frye.”
What are some quick impressions of Washington State?
“The Arizona game, which was their last game, it was 57-all with a little more than a minute to play. We all know Arizona is a good team first-hand. So that’s indicative of how dangerous this Washington State team is. They’re a disciplined team, they’re going to use the clock offensively. They’ll make you play defense for long periods of time. They control the game that way. They play very hard defensively. They’ll employ their 1-3-1 zone as well as man. Against us up there they played only one possession in that zone. The rest of the time they were straight man. Based on the teams that have played us lately we expect to see more 1-3-1 zone and we’ll have to attack that as well from an offensive standpoint. It’s going to come down to our ability to be disciplined and tough, and be ready for long possessions on defense. They beat Arizona State at home. They’re a dangerous team.”
Can you assess your performance as a coach in your first year? Is it based entirely on results, or based on other things?
“That’s how you measure success, based on wins and losses. That’s how coaches, players, programs are always judged. I was very pleased how we were going until this five-game skid. Again, losing to Arizona and Stanford, those were teams that were very good teams. But I’m really disappointed in the last two games in particular. We have a long way to go before you can make a final judgment on any of our players and our coaching staff. I’m pleased with how things have progressed from the standpoint that we understand where this is headed. The kids that are in the program right now that will be in it next year are benefitting from this experience, whether it be good or bad.”
How important is Thursday’s game for the season?
“It’s very important. It’s everything. We need to get a win. We’re desperate for a win. At what point does that desperation drive us to how we need to play from a standpoint of defense and rebounding? That’s what we have to make sure happens.”
Dijon has averaged 34 minutes. You said, despite not being in the starting lineup, that he’d still get his minutes. Will he still play those kind of minutes?
“It’s kind of a as-we-go thing. We have a couple more days of practice before we play our next game. Right now he’ll be our sixth man coming off the bench for either Brian or Trevor, or T.J., for that matter. We’ll go from there. I think he’ll be in the general area (of those minutes). This is based on performance. I’m going to base, more than anything, how much guys play here the rest of the way on their intensity level, their attention to detail in what we’re trying to do defensively. We’re going to make mistakes on offense. Those I can live with. When we make mistakes defensively, because we’re not playing as hard as we’re supposed to, or we’re not attentive to what we went through in practice, those are things I have a hard time dealing with. Therefore, we’ll make changes based on that.”
Do you ever remember taking your leading scorer out of the starting lineup?
“No. I don’t think so. That really doesn’t mean much. The leading scorer is great, but it’s a number thing. We need Dijon to shoot a better percentage. He’s at 40.4% I think, on the year. We have to shoot a better percentage as a team and as individuals. The last leading scorer that shot less than 44% from the field in UCLA history was in 1962. 44.1% was Jason Kapono. Reggie Miller was 55% or better four straight years. Don MacLean was only theleading scorer three years, but was over 52% all of those years. I actually went back and looked back at this, who the leading scorer was and what they shot percentage-wise. It is pretty amazing some of the percentages these guys shot.”
With Dijon is it just shot selection?
“Yeah. But you know you have to have a post presence, too, to take the pressure off a guy who is an outside shooter. And we haven’t had a good post presence from a standpoint of scoring. So it’s easier to defend a team that’s perimeter-oriented that doesn’t have a true post presence night in and night out.”
Has there been any thought to running more and trying to get more points in transition?v
“Yeah, I thought we did that against SC in the second half. But when you’re out-boarded by eight boards a game, and the other team is beating you on the boards, it’s tough. The only way to get transition baskets is through stops and rebounds. We’re trying to push it all the time.”
Is there any thought to Janou Rubin getting more time?
“Janou’s doing a good job for us. He’s played well. He was especially important in that first opening weekend when he was player of the week against the Oregon schools. He was our leading rebounder in practice yesterday, for example. He’s playing 14, 16, 17 minutes. A walk-on here playing at UCLA.”
Might Josiah Johnson get more minutes?
“Josiah has done a good job. I like Josiah’s attitude, because all he cares about is winning. When we lose it really does bother him. He’s been very very happy when his team wins and he hasn’t played. He wants to win. Part of that, too, is his legacy here. His dad played here and was a great player, with a retired jersey. His brother played here, on the national championship team. He really bleeds blue and gold. He has a lot of pride in being a UCLA Bruin.
“But we need to get Fey going again. He has had good games this year, and I’m looking for Mike to try to come back now after his slump. That’s what you have to do. It’s like our team has to do.”
What can you do offensively to improve?
“The last five games, with the exception of Cal, have all played mostly zone. We haven’t attacked it well and shot it well. With the addition of Morrison, that’s another reason to put him in the starting lineup. He’s by far our best three-point shooter. He’s shooting 46% when he was injured in the Michigan State game. He can shoot threes with distance, that can stretch the zone. We need him to shoot, and get his game going again. It might be going small. Our second best outside shooter in my mind is Dijon and our third best is Janou Rubin.”
Is Morrison still hindered by the injury?
“I think he’s still dragging it a little bit. I thought he was better in practice on Friday than he had been at the beginning of last week in terms of not protecting or worrying about it. It’s hard when you sat out for five weeks and all of sudden you get thrown right back in. We need him to come back. For me the biggest thing he brings is the ability to defend and block out. He’s one of our tougher kids. And we need to have that toughness to win.”