UCLA coach Ben Howland met the media today at US Airways Center in Phoenix, about 27 hours before his Bruins take on Western Kentucky in the Western regional semifinals.
Here is the entire transcript of his interview, according to ASAPsports.com.
"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."
(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.)
"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."
(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?)
"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."
(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?)
"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."
(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?)
"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."
(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?)
"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."
(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?)
"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."
(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.)
"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."
(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?)
"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."
(You must think referees are doing a heck of a job this year down the stretch.)
"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."