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February 1, 2009UCLA coach Ben Howland seemed very pleased up at the podium after the Stanford game and why shouldn't he, his team just dismantled both of the Pac 10 Bay Area teams this weekend, putting an exclamation point on their bounce back from the Washington loss a week ago.
Howland: "I thought that this weekend we showed good improvement and again being a young team that six veterans and five freshmen you know it takes time to for us and I think we are going to continue to improve. That's the good news, because of our youth.
"These freshmen are starting to really get to where they understand everything and the concepts that we are trying to do at both ends of the floor.
"I thought our senior leadership was tremendous in both of these games this weekend, with Josh Shipp, Darren Collison and Alfred Aboya supplying that and really leading by example with their passionate play and the tenacity that they played with and the unselfishness.
"We had a chance in the first half to break it open a little bit further, but we were actually one for eight on those transition opportunities where we didn't finish or didn't make the decisions that were best, but it was all good. In the second half we did a better job of finishing those transition opportunities, back cutting for layups. I think we three or four of those against their switching pressure.
"I'm just really proud of the effort that our guys gave today and so it is a good feeling. I think that Stanford is a very good team. We have been to the same places. They lost to SC by one on a last second shot that they could have made. They both Washington and Washington State in the state of Washington beat and ended up losing both of those games by one.
"Stanford has very good players and we have a great respect for Lawrence Hill, Landry Fields, Anthony Goods and Mitch Johnson. They have been on some very good teams there so I'm sure they will bounce back. They are a good team."
When you talk about the freshmen starting to get it in particular what do you see?
Howland: "I just think that every day in practice you are getting better because you are practicing against each other and the passion. I mean our second group comes in that was there in the second-half, really, really, did a great job that first time they came in where they, I think it was at the 14 or 15 minute mark we brought Drew Gordon, Michael Roll and James Keefe in and they continued to build and that's what's nice having your that come in off the bench to keep the level of play and even raise the level of play and I think one thing we have with team, we have pretty good depth now. We are really playing 10 to 11 guys, 10 guys every night and Bobo (J'mison Morgan) got good minutes and you can see glimpses of where he can be down the road.
"It is not just our freshmen, it is everybody. It always takes time when you have a lot of new guys to jell together and I feel like we are doing that right now, but we have to move forward right now and the biggest game of the year coming up next is always the next game and it's the Trojans on Wednesday."
In the first half, Stanford shot 52 percent, but in the second half you limited them 27.6, what was the change in that?
Howland: "I'll tell you what they made some tough shots in the first half. They were shooting 65 percent with about four or five minutes to go in the half and we ended up forcing quite a few turnovers.
"One thing that it doesn't take into account in shooting percentage is when you force a lot of turnovers and again our turnover ratio compared to theirs was good and we had 21 assists today on 38 baskets. We really made a lot of good plays for each other.
"Darren (Collison) was terrific today at both ends. I just love, when he pressures the ball, everything starts with Darren Collison in terms of our defensive intensity. When he (Collison) is into the ball, the way he has been these last two games, we are a much better defensive team and he is really focused on that because we really made that a point. That's where everything starts, right there with him and I think he did a tremendous job this weekend."
You said they are getting better in practice, is it offense, defense or is it always coming from defense?
Howland: "It is both ends."
Anything in particular though?
Howland: "I just think in general it is both ends."
It was 20 to 20 and you brought in four starters and I think Jerime Anderson was them. Did Darren play the first 10 minutes, is that what you did left him in the second
Howland: "You know we were gassed there early in the game. The game was just going up and down, up and down. We were forcing turnovers and we had about three or four misses if you go back that were opportunities that we are normally going to finish on and we didn't and our guys were gassed.
"We actually yesterday practiced for about a half an hour, which I rarely ever do, but I wanted to do that yesterday because I wanted to work on a few things and you could see the pace of the game early was really up and down. Our guys got gassed so we subbed a little quicker than normal."
Coach you guys got a lot of looks for Alfred (Aboya) in the first half. Is this the way you are going to use him going forward?
Howland: "I thought Alfred was terrific, especially in the second half, the way he was chasing down those rebounds. I love Alfred, I really do. I love how hard he plays and just the passion he brings. It is just exciting. The crowd appreciated him. You could hear when he running down those plays.
"Darren on the floor, we made a lot of hustle plays today, which is exciting. I told the team after the game that it really brings a lot of pride for me to have the first championship team here today being honored and to see our players represent that heritage the way they did and to me that's really, really special."
Coach you guys scored 42 points in the paint today now you are going against USC that are pretty good they have some bodies inside. How does today set the theme for play down low?
Howland: "They're improved because they are healthy now. Leonard Washington is back and he creates a new dynamic because of his rebounding and toughness inside. You know that Taj Gibson is a great shot blocker. It is going to be a very tough game. You know they will play different defenses and we will have to prepare on that. We have off now until Monday and go Steelers." (laughter)
The last home game against Arizona State, the points in the paint were a problem, the last two have really, especially today with 42 points, what have you done differently?
Howland: "Our defense has just been really good at pressuring the ball and we've been very active off the ball, helping each other, creating opportunities by getting some loose balls.
"I thought Jrue Holiday was spectacular this weekend. He had 15 points today and again 15 points, five assists, one turnover for the freshman guarding the team's best player and those guys are good. I'm telling you right that Patrick Christopher and Goods are very good players and I thought he (Holiday) was terrific in both games at both ends of the floor. You can see he is really starting to come on now and that is fun to see because he's a special talent."
When you talk about senior leadership was it just the intensity that they played with in these two games or was it in practice?
Howland: "It was in practice and it was in all the above. It was in practice, it was them, who were leading by example. It was them being positive with their teammates. They are doing a great job leading this team, those three seniors (Aboya, Collison and Shipp) and I am really proud of them.
"We have been here the last previous two years that we didn't have but one senior the last two years. It's great to have seniors that have been through the wars and get it."
These last two games you have really pushed the pace on turnovers on transition, but even in the half court shooting earlier in the shot clock, can you talk about that approach is that something you want to see?
Howland: "We are always pushing it and looking to see what can have. The times that you get stops it is much easier to run when you are not taking it out of the basket and again that's the key and we are forcing a lot of turnovers. The easiest time to run is when you create havoc with your defense and our quickness and our rotations are very good. I thought that Alfred, again in both games did tremendously defensively. He guarded Jamal Boykin one night and guarded Hill today. I don't know what Hill ended up with, but Alfred did a tremendous job. I wouldn't want Alfred guarding me."
Is there an emphasis to look to drive more in the half-court to get to the basket?
Howland: "Not in particular, it is just opportunities that present themselves and these guys read it."
When you push defense how much is that to push a team to play faster than they really can?
Howland: "Our guys are going to push it when the opportunity is there and there are more opportunities when you get stops and force turnovers. It all starts back, I know it's boring and I apologize, but it is the truth. It's like a broken record here. It starts with our defense and then we are making plays for each other.
"It is like having two point guards out there in the starting lineup because Jrue has a point guard mentality in his game. Like today one time there was a three on one and instead of shooting the ball, he gave it up to Josh who is right in front of him because he is looking to pass first and we have to get him to keep looking to shoot when he's open."
Two days ago you said that you didn't have a lot to complain about is it the same feeling today?
Howland: "I didn't know that quote would be emphasized so much. It was just kind of off the cuff, but yeah, I am very happy today and I'm really proud of the effort that we gave in both games. It feels good obviously to win and feel like that the team is improving that we are getting better. That we are improving as a group so that is exciting."
Any reason for the big runs coming out of the locker room (after the half), the last two games? I think it was 18-2 against Cal and 21-1 against Stanford i
Howland: "Well maybe we are reverting back to the past years where we were a very good second half team and obviously that's when you really want to be good. If you had to choose between one or the other, but we want to be good for forty minutes."
How big was it to answer last week's loss with two wins this weekend?
Howland: "Losing is part of the game and how respond to adversity and I thought that our team, you know losing is adversity, how and that's because of the high character kids that we have in our program. I can't emphasize that enough, we have great kids that are really good people. That are really solid. That is what we look for in our recruiting and when you have adversity, because there is so much expectation heaped upon their shoulders and they handle that adversity so well and bounce back.
"We were beaten last weekend by a very good team. Washington is an outstanding team. It is a very tough league (Pac 10). Anybody can beat anyone on a given night in this league and that's the truth and you are seeing it.
"We have the first half done. We are 7-2 and we just finished the first half. We want to be improving and better the second half of this regular conference season."