March 20, 2009

 

THE MODERATOR:  We're joined by UCLA student athletes.  We'll open it up for questions.

Q.  You had some losses from last year personnel wise.  Coming into this year, what are your expectations, your view of the season?  Have you surpassed them yet?  Have you fallen under them during the regular season?
 
JOSH SHIPP:  I mean, first and foremost, just being at UCLA, you want to win championships.  That's our goal every year.  We did lose a lot of significant personnel.  But, like I said, we have that goal every year.  Coach did a great job recruiting, brought a lot of young guys in to help us out.
 
This year we did have a few mishaps.  We didn't get our first goal, which was to win the PAC 10 championship.  We didn't reach our next goal, which was to win the PAC 10 tournament.  We're here now, hopefully we can make a deep run.  Hopefully we can do that.
 
DARREN COLLISON:  Pretty much everything that Josh said.  You know, a little bit in the beginning of the season we didn't really know where we was at because we had a lot of young guys.  But as we kept rolling, as you start winning more games, we got accustomed to each other and knew each other personnel wise.
 
Last year, we had Russell Westbrook, which was a great defender, and Kevin Love, a great scorer.  We just got to switch it up.

 
Q.  Darren, how is your back feeling?
 
DARREN COLLISON:  Back's feeling all right.

 
Q.  No residual soreness, a hundred percent?
 
DARREN COLLISON:  Well, I wouldn't say a hundred percent.  I don't think nobody's a hundred percent going into this tournament.  You'd be crazy if you said that.  We played a lot of games, physicality games.  I'm about nearly 90 percent.  But I'm feeling fine.

 
Q.  What kind of toll does a game going down to the wire like that take on you?  Could you go to sleep right after the game?
 
DARREN COLLISON:  Well, we had no choice.  We didn't get home till like, you know, 12:30.  We didn't go to bed till around 2 or 3.  We was pretty tired after the game.  It was emotional at the same time because one shot could have definitely jeopardized our season, our career, me and Josh's last year.  But we got it up.  You know, the object of the game is to win as much games as possible.  Just to win one game, we did exactly that, now we're moving forward.

 
Q.  I want to get a scouting report on Villanova from y'all.
 
DARREN COLLISON:  Well, you got Scottie Reynolds, their point guard, a very good player.  A good penetrator.  His freshman year he put up a lot of big numbers.  He's looking to score a lot.  He can shoot the ball as well.
 
Then you got Anderson and Cunningham, who have 50 points between the two of them, very good players.  If we can contain those two, we should be all right.  You have Fisher coming off the bench, a good ball handler.  These guys can put it on the floor really well.  They got a lot of good guard skills.  If we continue to play defense like we did last night, I don't think it should be a problem.

 
Q.  What kind of adjustments do you have to make when they put out a number of guards on the floor?  They can do as many as four at a given time.
 
DARREN COLLISON:  Well, we run about four guards ourselves, too.  Josh Shipp, myself, Jrue Holiday, and Nicola, he's getting better at guarding the guards as well.  Cunningham is more of a four man than he is a five.  It matches to how we play.
 
It should be an interesting matchup.  I think everybody matches up really well and it should be fun to watch.

 
Q.  Given the way you play with Coach Howland's defense, that's the key for him, those guys in that locker room do the same thing.  They love playing ugly.  Do you relish the fact it's probably going to be a dirty it up 55 51 kind of game?
 
DARREN COLLISON:  Well, that Big East matchup, that's all it is.  Just winning ugly.  Coach Howland, he is a coach from the Big East.  It kind of tends to rub off on us, as well.
 
You just want to win as much games as possible throughout the regular season, all the way up to this point.  No matter how you win it, everybody is going to talk about the results.  We understand that they like to play ugly.  But we won some games playing ugly, as well.  You don't want to play ugly, but that's just how the game matches up.
 
JOSH SHIPP:  Yeah, like I said, we're at the point in the season where it doesn't matter how you can win, if you get a win.  If it's an ugly game and we win, we're fine with that.
 
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, guys.
 
We're joined by UCLA head coach Ben Howland.  Coach, we'll ask you for an opening statement.
 
COACH HOWLAND:  Thanks to all of you for being here today.  Without further ado, questions are available.

 
Q.  Coach, it's been kind of common among these Big East coaches to refer to teams they're playing against at Big East teams.  They mean I guess with a big frontline, very physical type of team.  I know you have some Big East blood in you.  Do you consider UCLA a Big East style team?
 
COACH HOWLAND:  You know what, we've been bigger and probably more physical the last couple years.  This year we're not quite as big up front.
 
But the Big East mentality of playing defense first, and that's what wins for you, doing a good job trying to take away the other team's ability to score easy in transition, fight for rebounds, that's going to be key tomorrow.
 
So I enjoyed my four years in the Big East.  I think it's a great league.

 
Q.  It seems like every year you have to reload because you have guys who are leaving earlier than you probably would have hoped.  What is that like for you year in, year out?
 
COACH HOWLAND:  This past year was really tough because we had three kids leave early, and they're all starting for their respective teams in the NBA.  Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.  Luc has done an incredible job.  He came out early and I think went the sixth pick in the second round.  Obviously, Kevin and Russell were the fourth and fifth pick in the draft and we lost a really good senior, Lorenzo Mata Real .  I'm pleased with our team, considering all the experience we lost, that we're having another good year.

 
Q.  What are you expecting from this Villanova team?  What are your keys?
 
COACH HOWLAND:  They're a very good team in transition.  They want to get up and down.  They have very good guard play in Reynolds and Fisher.  They have a lot of different wings.  Basically, it's like playing against four and five guards at times.  You know, Cunningham posts up, but he has a very good face up game, 17, 18 feet.  Very strong around the basket.
 
They have a very strong bench.  When you bring in Fisher, Stokes, the way he shoots the ball, Peña, who has been a starter at times during the year, they have eight very good players.  I really like obviously their wings.  Redding is a very good player, as is Anderson.  So there's a lot of problems to match up with.

 
Q.  Coach Wright was in here.  The question was raised about playing here in Philadelphia, the proximity to Villanova.  He made the point that once the ball goes up, really it's a ballgame, nobody really is cognizant of where they're playing.  Do you agree with that?
 
COACH HOWLAND:  Well, they may not know where they're playing, but they know that most of the building's rooting for them.  So there's no question it's an advantage for them to be playing at home in a building they're familiar with, with most of the people who are gonna be in the seats tomorrow rooting for them.
 
We understand this is like the only true road game in the NCAA tournament.  We're gonna come out and play like it's a road game.  I think at times we've been a very good road team, not only this year but the last few years.

 
Q.  Given you've tried to mix in a lot of younger guys, freshmen, how has this affected defense?  How hard has it been for the kids to adjust to how you want them to play, to you to be patient with them?
 
COACH HOWLAND:  You know, I don't think we've been, as a team, as good a defensive team as we've been the last few years.  We've been better offensively, and not quite as good defensively.  That's for sure.  Going into the PAC 10 tournament, we were leading the country in field goal percentage.  Now, since then we've had three games that have dropped us out of there.  I'm sure we're still in the top five or so.  But our defensive field goal percentage has not been very good.  That's really the key for us.  If we can do a good job defensively, it gives us a chance against Villanova tomorrow.  If we don't play good defense, then it's going to be a long day.
 
And they're a hard team to defend.  There's a lot of ball screens, there's a lot of transition.  They're very good off the dribble at isolating guys that can penetrate, draw and kick.  Cunningham in particular is very hard to match up with inside and is good around the basket.  So we've got our work cut out for us.

 
Q.  Jay was talking about your team.  He said your team reminds him of a Big East team because they're physically and mentally tough.  That is an attitude you wanted to instill when he came from Pittsburgh?
 
COACH HOWLAND:  I didn't come in with the idea that we're going to turn them into a Big East team.  But, I mean, all good teams are physical and mentally tough.  I don't think you'll find many teams that don't have those attributes that are very successful.
 
We try to play good defense.  We try to do a good job rebounding the basketball.  We want to take good shots and be a team that makes the extra pass and plays smart but yet really tough and hard nosed.
 
THE MODERATOR:  Coach, thank you.

 

VILLANOVA QUOTES

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Villanova student-athletes. We'll open it up for questions.

Q. As strong as you are on the perimeter, with as many different options as you have, how exciting is it to play a team that is probably maybe not equally as strong but certainly equally talented out there?
DWAYNE ANDERSON: That's something we faced all year in the Big East. You have all different types of different styles. Syracuse, they have guards. Georgetown, they have a guard that's pretty good. So we're used to the guard play. So we're ready to go on the floor and play for 40 minutes.

Q. Seeing UCLA last night, knowing you have them in the cross hairs or whatnot, the thing that jumped out to each of you about them, one thing that stood out to each of you?
DWAYNE ANDERSON: They defend and rebound. In order to win championships, you have to play defense. And their coach does a great job of having them focus on all the little plays on the defensive end.
DANTE CUNNINGHAM: You know, they push the ball well in transition. They get a lot of points off their defense, steals. You got to take good shots so you can get back and set up your defense.

Q. Dante, looking at UCLA, what problems do you think you present to them for tomorrow's game?
DANTE CUNNINGHAM: I guess, just being able to step out, you know, hit the jump shot. And also, when they do double down, I'm able to kick it out to, you know, Dwayne and Scottie and all that on the perimeter.

Q. Growing up, did either of you have any idea about UCLA? What did you think of them reputation-wise growing up as basketball players?
DWAYNE ANDERSON: UCLA, they have that big name. They always had that for a while. The last couple years, they've been going to the Final Four. So their program has always been in the frontline, the headlines and everything. We know they have a great program. We know they're going to come out and battle tomorrow.
DANTE CUNNINGHAM: Yeah, same thing. You always heard about UCLA coming up. They always had that historical name, all the runs, championships that they have.

Q. Knowing that they were really on the ropes towards the end of that game, does that give you more hope, they might be coming off an exhausting, emotionally draining experience?
DWAYNE ANDERSON: To be honest, no. They were on the ropes. We were also, so... I guess it cancels out. It should be a great game tomorrow.

Q. We made so much talk about the home court advantage all week. In the second half when the crowd really did get behind you, drowned out all the fans rooting for the other side, did that really drive you in the last 10 minutes, in retrospect?
DWAYNE ANDERSON: Definitely the fans always supported us all year. Whether it's in the Pavilion or wherever we play at. They always come out. They're always loud, very into the game for the entire game. So it definitely helped us, I think, at the end.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys.
We're joined by Coach Wright from Villanova. Coach, we'll ask you to make an opening statement.
COACH WRIGHT: Well, we're very happy to be here after last night.
I was very proud of our guys to come out and finish that game. We always talk about playing 40 minutes of Villanova basketball. And, I explained to them today, that's what it was. American played a great first half and we finished it.
To play against UCLA, we're going to have to play 40 minutes. Anything can happen during that game. They have great perimeter scoring, great length. I love their toughness defensively. Playing against Ben Howland's teams at Pitt, he has instilled that in these teams at UCLA. And I think he's added a little bit more skill basketball-wise, too.
This is gonna be a very, very tough game. But I think similar type of teams.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. What's different about Ben Howland's defenses now at UCLA than when he was at Pitt?
COACH WRIGHT: Man, you know, I don't see that much difference. I really don't. I think that's what makes their team so good.
I think offensively they have more skilled players than they had at Pitt at that time. Now at Pitt they've got skilled players also. But when Ben was there, they had big, strong, long, tough players. That's what I see there. Same type of defense. Very physical.
I really don't see much difference.

Q. As you were coming up as a kid, what did UCLA mean to you? I understand it's the next game in a tournament, but what would it mean for this program on this kind of stage to get eight win over them?
COACH WRIGHT: I think anybody of my age or older grew up watching the dynasty of John Wooden. I remember the UCLA-Notre Dame games. I remember staying up as a kid. That would be the only game they would put on at 11:30 at night, is when Notre Dame would play at UCLA. And I definitely remember the '71 team when Villanova played UCLA in the championship game, and I was a kid and Villanova was my favorite team.
So I think all of us in basketball have a great respect for that tradition. Obviously John Wooden, we all respect him and that transition. But even since then, Steve Lavin years, they were always in the championship, making a run. National championship team, I was actually in Las Vegas at that time. We played against that team when I was at UNLV.
You know what, in this game you don't have time to think about all that stuff. When you ask me, I think about it. When you have time to relax, you think about it. But right now you're thinking about Collison, Aboya, Shipp, Dragovic, all those guys. That's what you think about now.

Q. There's a perception out there that as the No. 3 seed playing in your hometown that's not quite as equitable as the NCAA tournament could be or has been. Can you talk about that.
COACH WRIGHT: Well, I think it's the way the NCAA set it up, and I wouldn't argue with you. I'd rather play here than play in California. There's no doubt in my mind.
I'm glad we're here. But I think all of us would tell you, you know, we answer the questions here, we do what we're supposed to do, but when that game starts, no one cares where you're playing once it starts.
It's just like during the season. When you're playing on the road, whether you're playing, once the game starts, it doesn't matter. It's 94 by 50 feet. That's the way we'll all look at it when the game starts.
But around the game there are advantages to being home.

Q. You probably never thought about this, may be a difficult question to answer, but why do you think you and Villanova have been able to keep players for four years, generally speaking, whereas UCLA loses guys every year it seems?
COACH WRIGHT: Well, I have thought about that. I would like to have some of those guys that UCLA lost in a couple years.
We lost Kyle Lowry. I think UCLA has had some guys that, coming into college, you knew -- I should say coming out of high school -- you knew this guy in a year or two is going to be drafted. Whether he has a great year or two or potential. They've just done a good job and gotten those kind of players.
And most of them are big, long guys, if you think about it. The NBA likes to take them on potential. And we've gotten really good high school players, really good high school players. And Villanova's just not the place you really go to leave it after a year. You come there to be part of a family. I'm not saying you don't do that anywhere else.
I don't know. Like Tyreke Evans last year had that decision to make. He would have been at Villanova one year. We would have taken him. A local kid. If he said, I'm going to go for a year or two, Memphis is probably better.

Q. You talk a lot about your own NCAA experience and how much that is beneficial to you guys year in and year out. You're going up against arguably the most battle-tested team in the country. Three straight Final Fours. That type of experience, does that neutralize any other advantage you might have like a home court or more talent or whatever it might be?
COACH WRIGHT: I think that's probably the most effective characteristic you'd have in this tournament besides talent, is your experience in this tournament. And I think that has been an advantage for us over the last couple years. You make a good point for UCLA. This senior class at UCLA, Collison, Shipp, Aboya, man, those guys, they've been in every situation, every big game. Just watching the game last night reminded me of watching a game they played last year. I remember a game in the NCAA tournament last year ending the same way for them. I can't remember the team. But it just seems like they're used to that kind of games. Might have been Texas A&M last year. Was that the game? It was the same kind of game. They're so good at that. Where you get them into a one-possession game. They have to execute, then they have to get a stop. I think Ben Howland's teams have always been great in those situations. That's what the NCAA tournament comes down to.
You make a good point. There's probably not a team in this tournament or group of guys as these three seniors that are as experienced in that situation.

Q. The last two games in the Big East tournament the kids had problems in the second half. Last night in the first half. Do you see this as a trend? If you do, how do you fix it quickly?
COACH WRIGHT: You know what, I really don't have an answer for that. I wish I did. We look at it. We don't want to make a big deal out of it. We come out, every game is a new game. We want to talk to the kids during the play, forget the last play, get to the next play. That's the way we're handling that. Say, Next game, let's go out and play 40 minutes next game. That's really all we can control, is if we play 40 minutes against UCLA. We are going to need to do that against UCLA.

Q. Would you talk a little bit about what you see as the guard matchups in this country, your guards versus the UCLA guards.
COACH WRIGHT: Man, well, you know, we played against two really good little guards last night. But we're going to a whole 'nother level now with Collison and Holiday. I love them.
Roll, I don't know what they count him as, but he'd be a guard if he played for us. That guy can shoot it. He is another dimension coming off the bench, kind of like Stokes is for us.
But Holiday and Collison, I think the reason that team is such a great three-point shooting team is that those two create easy, open looks for their teammates. You could be a great shooter, but if you're not getting set, open looks, it's tough to make 'em.
Those two guards do a great job there. Defensively Collison could be one of the best in the country. I thought his play on Maynor last night at the end of the game, we've seen Maynor win a lot of games that way. I had Maynor on a USA team. That play to stop him like that, not leave his feet on the shot fake, still contest him, was big time. He could be one of the best defensive guards in the country.

Q. How rewarding has it been for you as a coach to see how Dwayne and Dante how they progressed as players and people? How much do you think the 2006 run helps them now?
COACH WRIGHT: I think for Dwayne and Dante to be part of that 2006 Big East championship team and final eight team was something that helped us last night. They've been in a lot of battles, those two. They're not afraid to fail. They'll put it out there on the line.
It has been one of the most rewarding things for our staff, to watch those two just grow as players, as leaders, as men. Just last night sitting here listening to them answer questions, I remember as freshmen they were so shy, they gave one-word answers. It really is fulfilling. Last night, they sound like old pros up here, very articulate. I was really proud of 'em. I am proud of 'em. That's why I want to keep going with them. I don't want this to end with these guys.

Q. I was talking to your guys back there. Between your sort of mentality, the way you play, the way they play, this isn't likely to be a 95-92 game. For a pretty guy, you kind of like to dirty it up. So does Coach Howland. Do you relish that, kind of a war-battle kind of game?
COACH WRIGHT: Yeah, we like that. We really do. There's a respect for the toughness that it takes to be a Big East basketball player, that we take a lot of pride in. And Ben, you know, I say this in a complimentary way, UCLA to me is a Big East team. Ben coached in our league and plays that way, very physical. Not just physical, but mentally tough. Ben is mentally tough. His team is mentally tough. That's why they got to three Final Fours. That's why they're at the top of their league every year, you know. There's a consistency to that.
We have great respect for them. And I do think, like you said, I don't think you're going to see 92-95 tomorrow.

Q. I know American did a great job last night on Scottie. How much do you need him to sort of take the emphasis and maybe shoot a little bit more in order to get past UCLA?
COACH WRIGHT: I don't think we need him to score now. What he did last night, what we do need from him is his leadership. That's what he gave us last night. He was at the top of that press last night, created turnovers. But what we keep in our mind all the time is having him on the floor draws a lot of defensive attention, and there's always the possibility he can explode; he did for a little spurt there in the second half.
I think that's been the growth of our team. We don't need him to get 25 to win. And I think he understands that. And he does so many other things. Defensively, he guarded Carr for a while. He did a great job on their point guard Mercer. Mercer had 13 at halftime. He did a great job. He started to take pride in those sorts of things. That's what we really need him to do.

Q. Your senior class has 99 wins and I think Connecticut has the same. Obviously personnel is different. Are there similarities when you watch them play and when you watch you guys on tape?
COACH WRIGHT: Connecticut?

Q. Yes.
COACH WRIGHT: Wow. You know, I hope the similarities are that we both take pride in defense. We take pride in rebounding. And, again, being mentally tough. We always respect Connecticut in that way.
I think the similarities end there with Thabeet.

Q. When you see a team on television, if you couldn't see the name on the fronts of the jersey, can you look at a team and say that's a senior-tough team?
COACH WRIGHT: Oh, yeah. I see what you're saying. And I compare UCLA: Shipp, Aboya, Collison that way, too. And that's exactly what Connecticut is also.
You can see, like in a game last night, when you get down 10 and you get down 14, you don't see a change in their demeanor, you don't see guys arguing. You just see a mental toughness, a committed mentality to playing the next possession, playing every play. I do think that's what experienced players get. That's usually the difference between a senior and freshman in college.

Q. Getting back to Scottie, his kind of transformation from being a scorer first to being a distributor and doing other things. Did you have to see something in him to start that process? Did you come into his sophomore year saying, We don't need him to score as much so we'll make him into this well-rounded player?
COACH WRIGHT: We want to make every one of our players a complete basketball player. Scottie came in as a great scorer. We think that having a scorer's mentality is something that you have to have for a long time. Dante Cunningham didn't get that until his senior year. It takes a long time to develop that. Scottie came in with that. So if you have somebody with that scorer's mentality, for us, you never want to subdue that. You want that killer instinct to always be in the front of his mind.
It was always a slow process with Scottie, trying to teach him the other parts of the game: defending, taking care of the basketball, being a leader on the court and off the court. It's been a gradual process.
What happened his freshman year is we needed him to score so much, we just had to let him go and concentrate only on that. So it's taken his sophomore and junior year to really develop into a complete player.
He can still score. He can score.

Q. Did you give credibility in the fact that there's a lot of people say the difference between your back court and UCLA's is with Collison and also Holiday, they're long but not necessarily thick? You guys, starting with Randy and Allen, have seemed to always have guards that are thick. Is that something you look for, guys that are built like that?
COACH WRIGHT: I think you're correct on the comparison of the guards. We don't look for that. We try to look for the best basketball players, we really do. Alan Ray was a little bit more of a long guard, like the UCLA guards. The rest of the guys, Kyle, Randy, Scottie, Fish, they're all like that, thick, you know. It just happened that way. But I think if you look at both of them, if you look at Holiday, Collison, you look at Fisher and Reynolds, I think what you see is really good basketball players, you know. They all defend. They all shoot it. They all drive it. They all pass it. That's what we look for.
I would never turn down one of those wiry guards at UCLA just because someone was thick. I love those -- I would take those guys anytime. It doesn't bother me if they're not wiry. If they're thick and strong, I like that, too. We really like basketball players that compete. That's what both of these guys are.

Q. When you see what happened, what Jim Calhoun had to do yesterday; turn the team over to another coach. Is that something that you prepare your assistants for?
COACH WRIGHT: You know, we know our associate Coach Pat Chambers would do that. But we've honestly never talked about that. I'm going to do that now that you brought that up. I saw Jim at the meeting. He looked great. I know that had to be a quick decision there. I'm going to do it, though. I am. But we know what we're going to do. We know Pat Chambers will be in charge.
We'll talk about it a little bit now. We never thought of that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.