UCLA head coach Ben Howland and players Larry Drew, Travis Wear and others spoke with media Thursday, previewing the Minnesota game.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with the UCLA student athletes. Open it up for questions.
Q. For Larry Drew, II, you're the only one on this team whose been to the tournament before. Have you kind of taken it upon yourself to talk to the guys and mentor them through this experience?
LARRY DREW, II: Yeah, I feel like all year I've been doing that. Just being the only senior on the team. And we're having a great freshman class come in. Basically since day one, ever since our summer trip to China, I've basically just been trying to step up as the only senior on the team and just try to lead us. And I feel like I've been doing a pretty good job up until now.
Q. What kind of things do you say to them this week?
LARRY DREW, II: Just try to remain focused, to remain calm. Aside from just it being a do or die, everything else is still the same. We're still going out there and playing the same game we have been playing all year. Basically the only difference is just the hype surrounding everything.
Q. Travis, Minnesota is one of the best rebounding teams in the country. Top 10 in rebound margin. What are you guys thinking? Do you know what you're up against tomorrow on the boards?
TRAVIS WEAR: Yeah we definitely know what we're up against. We have made that a main point in practice, rebounding. The team overall is extremely good at rebounding. They don't shoot the ball particularly well, which means it's going to be a lot of misses. We need to box them out. We need to go get the ball and not leak out early in transition.
Q. Travis, can you talk specifically about the challenge of going one on one with Mbakwe if that does happen to you?
TRAVIS WEAR: We have some pretty good bigs that we have played against in this league, some big teams. Mbakwe, he's big, he's going to be a challenge, but if I force him off the block, I don't think it will pose that big of a problem, compared to some of the other guys I played against in the PAC 12.
Q. Larry, how did the last few days of practice go when it comes to not having Jordan. You only had that one night in Vegas. Maybe specifically for you, trying to fit into some of those plays that Jordan was in for you guys.
LARRY DREW, II: I think that everybody's been handling it particularly well. Especially Norman. Norman has had a couple great days in practices these last couple of days, he's really stepped up.
The team overall has been stepping up in Jordan's absence. Obviously it's a major loss to us, but Coach Howland and the rest of the coaching staff, everybody's done a very good job in preparing us for the coming games.
Q. Are you guys paying attention to the media right now? I know they're calling you the underdog now and do you guys let that affect you or what kind of effect is it having?
LARRY DREW, II: Actually, our first practice back, our locker room had a bunch of quotes and posts and stuff from just, I mean, people who might be doubting us. Just from analysts or writers or bloggers or whoever it may be. Coach obviously feels like well he's noticed it and he definitely wants that to motivate us. So we got word that people are kind of counting us out, but we feel like we have been proving people wrong all year. From the start of the year, kind of coming off or coming out the gates a little bit slow, to winning the conference, again, at the end of the day there's one ball, there's two hoops and 10 players out there on the court and they're the same game, we're just going to go out there and play it.
Q. Larry, do you guys kind of feel like you have something to prove? Maybe the team and your coach?
LARRY DREW, II: I feel like that as a I know Coach Howland definitely feels that way. He definitely feels like just from the seeding to us being the underdogs, even with the higher seed, he definitely feels like we have something to prove out there.
Particularly me myself, I try not to feed into the media or what people are saying, because, again, the game is still the same. But it's going to be interesting to see how everything kind of just comes together. Because I know we're going to be ready.
Everybody knows what's at stake here, what's on the line. Even for myself, this is my senior campaign, I don't have any more college games after this, if I lose. So I'm definitely going to take it upon myself to just to do whatever it's going to take to lead these guys to a victory.
Q. Is this the first time Coach Howland has used quotes to inspire you guys? Like quotes of doubt? Or is that something he's done before?
LARRY DREW, II: I don't think so. I can't remember any other instances this year. But he's a very passionate person in general. Even more so just as a coach. So he's just trying to fire us up and I think it's been working, because we have had some great practices these past couple of days.
Q. For either of you, when you look at Minnesota's roster, is there one guy in particular that you think, if we can stop this guy, that will be our best shot?
TRAVIS WEAR: Looking at their stats, they got a lot of guys that average 10, 11, 9, 10, so they're very balanced in scoring. Obviously the main thing that stands out with them is their rebounding. I think our main focus is just going to be to try to beat them on the boards. I think if we do that, keep it close, we'll be fine.
As far as shutting one particular player down, that's really not our main focus. Just playing good team defense, contest shots, don't let them make any easy ones, and rebound in transition.
LARRY DREW, II: In my opinion the point guard is the one who controls and dictates everything out on the floor, so being that their guard, he is the leading scorer on the team, he takes the most shots, I do believe. But in my opinion, if I take him out of the game, then the rest of the team will go down with him. So I'm going to do my best to speed him up, pressure him, and just do a good job on the defense end of the floor.
Q. We hear all the time about how the Big Ten is the best conference in the country. Just in what you've studied on film so far, or what you've seen out of them, how does the style or brand of basketball differ from what you guys play in the PAC 12?
TRAVIS WEAR: There's a lot of big physical teams in the Big Ten. They grind it out. I feel like a little bit more than the PAC 12 does. But I think our conference is going to fair very well in the tournament this year. I think that we're going to prove that our conference is very tough this year and equivalent to any other one across the country.
But we know that Minnesota's going to come and try to grind it out and beat us on the boards like a lot of the Big Ten schools like to do.
Q. Larry, you mentioned how this is your last year of playing college basketball and you were really emotional after Jordan Adams went down in the locker room. How has the process been over the past couple of days to get past that and put yourself in a better place?
LARRY DREW, II: Yeah, it was very emotional, just to see a player of Jordan's caliber go down the way he did. If you watched the Arizona game, you saw how many times he was getting hammered and just like slammed to the floor and he was just jumping right back up. And then go knock down the free throws and then for him to break his foot closing out on a guy at the end of a game -- I think it just, it all just hit me pretty hard. I thought particularly at a time when I found out.
But honestly, after I got it out, and I was walking back to the hotel, I knew I had to move on. We couldn't really be stuck on that forever, because we were going to be playing again. So I shook it off and I got focused and probably just after that point in time I knew that, okay, the season is not over, so it didn't really linger too long.
Q. Larry, what have you noticed from their defense on film and do you expect maybe the type of attention that you got in the Arizona game in the PAC 12 semis?
LARRY DREW, II: I haven't really seen too much of them defensively. The little bit of tape that we have watched so far was them in transition, a couple of their plays, and how they like to attack the glass. But I'm sure we're going to be watching a lot more film of them tonight and tomorrow before the game. So I have no clue how they're going to be defending me on the pick and roll.
THE MODERATOR: All right, gentlemen, thank you. We're going to let you go. We'll take an opening statement from Coach Howland.
COACH HOWLAND: Well, excited to be here. Proud of the season that our team's had thus far. Really excited about the opportunity to play against a very good and very well coached Minnesota team. The film that we watched on them, they were just really athletic, very strong and physical inside. Williams and Mbakwe are just seniors. One's a six year senior and they post a lot of challenges because their strength is rebounding, that's probably our weakness.
So we're going to have to do a really good job with all five players in there blocking out and doing their very best to try to minimize their outstanding rebounding ability.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Coach, with all the guys that Tubby Smith plays on Minnesota, are you looking to counter that with more guys than typically you play or are you sticking with the six guys that...
COACH HOWLAND: We're going to play seven.
Q. If you do have compounded foul trouble or injury or anything and have to go beyond seven, what's plan B? Who are the guys that would come in?
COACH HOWLAND: Well we would bring is Sooren in as our big and probably move Aubrey in as our small right now and Dave Brown, one of our walk ons, that we did put on scholarship at the beginning of the year, he sustained a sprained ankle in yesterday's practice. Otherwise it would have been him.
Q. After the Oregon game some of the guys said that they were uncomfortable with the new adjustments considering Adams had just recently been out. How valuable has this extra day of practice been to you guys?
COACH HOWLAND: Well it's been more than an extra day. Going into the Oregon game, that was our third game in three days. And we finished our game against Arizona at 8 o'clock the night before and had a game in 24 hours.
So there's not a lot of time in that sort of time period to make a lot of adjustments. We took off Sunday and Monday, so we have had three practices to prepare for this game. And it's obviously been very helpful because the key guy that it affects is Kyle.
Kyle's played the vast majority of his minutes since November as a four. And now he's got to come back and play half his minutes minimally as a three.
So what he has to do defensively and offensively transition defense wise, is very different. And it was good that we had the opportunity to do that here the last three days. I think that it's helpful.
Q. Coach, can you talk about how your players have dealt with some of the adversity this year, whether it be some of the rumors about your future with the program and transfers and injuries and things of that nature.
COACH HOWLAND: So specifically what is your question?
Q. How have your players dealt with adversity this year, different types of adversity?
COACH HOWLAND: They have been great. The fact that our team has accomplished a PAC 12 regular season championship, we got to the conference tournament championship, losing arguably our best all around player in the last five seconds of that Arizona game on a freak injury to his ankle. And then played a game the next night without any time to really prepare for that change and had them at I think 52 all with eight or 10 minutes to go.
So I'm just really proud of our kids and I think that kids today in general handle adversity so much better than any time before. Because it's constant. I'm really, really proud and that's the key. They're more than great lessons in athletics, one of the great lessons in athletics is learning how to deal with adversity, get stronger because of it, learn from it, bounce back, and that's one of the great things why you see so many kids that come out of athletic back grounds or basketball or other sport, have so much success in life outside of the world of athletics.
Let me ask a quick question to you guys? How many of you people are here from Minnesota in terms of the press besides him? Well, I was thinking today and I want to remind you of this, because I think this is a great sideline to this story between these two programs. Is that if it wasn't for a big storm in the spring of 1948, John Wooden would have been your coach. And it's such a great story, I called Nan Wooden today, just to make sure, because I remember reading it and talking to coach about it. That coach wanted to be the head coach at the University of Minnesota coming from Indiana State. That was his first choice. He was expecting a call at a certain hour from Minnesota, and they had such a horrible storm, shocking, that it knocked down the phone lines and UCLA in the meantime called and he accepted the job to be the head coach at UCLA.
And then about an hour later when Minnesota called, he explained to them, I've already given my word, and I'm accepted the position as head coach at UCLA. How different history would have been written had that storm not occurred at that time. It's just amazing to me and I talked to Nan today about the fact that they came out summer of 1948, and they worked out pretty well for obviously the UCLA program and their entire family, which everybody is located in Southern California. All of his grandchildren, great grandchildren, his two kids, Jim and Nan, so I think that's just really a special story. His wife Nellie, wanted to be in Minnesota, because she wanted to be close to mom and dad. She wanted to stay close to her roots. And so our good luck.
Q. Coach, Larry said that you had hung up inspirational quotes or quotes doubting, doubting your team in the locker room. He said you hadn't done that before. What was the intention for this game that made you want to do that?
COACH HOWLAND: It's not the only game that we have done that. But purely, purely motivation.
Q. What kind of, why this game for that motivation?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, like I said, it's not just this game, but this game is a big game, it's their biggest game of the year, because if you lose, you go home. It's over.
Basically I was just hanging up the quotes of the media and all the experts talking about our team.
Q. Do you feel like your team has been disrespected a little bit, especially the fact that so many people have said Minnesota is even a favorite?
COACH HOWLAND: Well Minnesota's a really good team. I read they had the second ranked strength of schedule in the country. I mean, they have beaten Michigan State, they have beaten Indiana, they have some great wins on their resume. So I wouldn't call that being disrespected for people to suggest that Minnesota's going to win the game.
Q. With the seven man rotation that you're going with, how concerned are you about controlling the pace of the game?
COACH HOWLAND: We want to run. We want to control the pace of the game. We want to play fast and push the ball.
We'll look for every opportunity we can in transition. Then, if we don't have something, we'll pull out and execute what we do we're best, our best offense is transition offense that's, if you looked at our team this year, we led the conference in transition baskets, most shots attempted, most points scored, but if you look at our efficiency, our efficiency is probably the best in transition when we have numbers, when we have the number advantage. So nothing changes. These guys are in great condition. Larry's the old man, he's 23. He can go forever.
Q. Coach, it's been said that the Big Ten is the best conference in the country and probably the deepest. How does that style of basketball differ from what you've played in the PAC 12 this year and what have you seen from Minnesota in that regard?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, I'm really pleased to announce, as I walked out here, that Oregon's winning, who I thought would win. I think Cal's going to win today. I think Arizona's going to win.
I think our league's really good. No question the Big Ten was the best league in the country this year, top to bottom. With seven teams in and four teams in the top 16 seeds. But I think our league is very good and I think it's prepared each of the teams in our conference because of the rigors of the PAC 12, to represent our conference and each of the respective schools very well moving into this tournament.
Q. You talked about how your players have dealt with the adversity this year. From your standpoint as a veteran coach going through all this, it's been pretty well documented, how have you dealt with that on the personal level going through this?
COACH HOWLAND: Adversity is a part of athletics. It's a part of what we do. Every year has its adversity to it. So it's what we're used to. This is my 32nd straight year in Division I coaching and am very blessed to be able to say that, to be a part of this wonderful game and so it's all good.
Real adversity is someone out there who doesn't have a job. Real adversity is someone whose trying to feed their kids and struggling to make it. Real adversity is having your mortgage under water. And there's so many things that are so much tougher than what we deal with in our world of athletics. I'm very lucky, very blessed, and just feel really fortunate to be here today with you guys and looking forward to our opportunity tomorrow.
Q. Tubby was, is a coach who understands some of the expectations that a program like UCLA has. Have you guys ever talked about what it's like to coach at such an elite program whenever you've met?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, he was at Kentucky for 10 years, did a fantastic job. I was there when they beat Utah down 10 at halftime to win the national championship in his first campaign. We are both in Minneapolis in my last year at Pitt when they were the No. 1 seed, we were the number two. We both ended up beaten by Marquette and some guy named Dwyane Wade in the tournament. I think my first year or second year Tubby's team beat us in the Wooden Classic and then we turned around and we actually beat them when he was at Kentucky over in Maui in November of 2006.
So I have this great respect for Tubby Smith and all that he's accomplished. And you look at his resume, starting at Tulsa and then to Georgia and Kentucky and now Minnesota, I mean he's one of the, he's a Hall of Fame coach. No question about it.
It's just a real honor to compete against him as a fellow coach. And it doesn't get any harder, because there's just nobody better. I mean, he's so good.
I was reading, for example, Minnesota's been to 12 tournaments in the history of the program, and over the last six years he's responsible for one fourth of those 12. And he does it with class and integrity. And he's a great example for his players.
Q. Following up on the adversity question over there, how do you react to the reports questioning your future with the team and is it annoying to you? Has it reached a point where you have to address it with your guys or how do you just feel about it?
COACH HOWLAND: I'm just here focused really on our game against Minnesota. So coaching my team and helping them be the very best they can be. So we're excited to be here and really excited about the opportunity to compete in this NCAA championship tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Okay, thank you, coach.
Locker Room Quotes
UCLA G Norman Powell
On Minnesota being discussed as favorite in this match-up: We know there has been a lot of talk about how Minnesota is going to beat us and upset us, but we are not focused on that. It is more motivation for us to play our game. We are going to go out there and compete. They are a great rebounding team, and we know that we lack on rebounding. Our focus is going to be to win the battle of the boards and to just play our game from there. We have been focusing on rebounding, boxing out and just not letting them get second-chance opportunities, because we know they thrive on them. So we are trying to limit that and just play our game.
On starting in place of the injured G Jordan Adams: I definitely feel like it is an opportunity for me. Jordan is a great player for us. He did a lot of things to help us win in key games this season, especially in the Pac-12 tournament. I feel like we don't lose that much with me coming in to fill his role. I know a lot of people feel there is a lot of pressure on me right now, but I am not looking at it as pressure. I am going out there to play my game and help this team win and just play basketball like I've been doing. That is what I am going to continue to do. I don't feel pressure, and I don't feel like I have to go out there and prove anything. I just feel I need to go out there and help this team win.
On how the dynamic will change with Adams out of the lineup: There is a lot [that will change] especially with our rotations. We are already a short team with eight players in the rotation. Now that Jordan is out that causes seven [players rotating], which causes many people to play different roles and different positions that they are not accustomed to. This week we had to prepare for this game and it really helped us figure out what everyone has to do. Everyone is stepping up, playing in their roles and just being comfortable and going out there and keeping the chemistry that we had this whole season. We know that this team is going to go at us and it is going to be a battle and that's what we are ready for.
UCLA G/F Shabazz Muhammad
On being the underdog against Minnesota: Everyone is saying that Minnesota is going to beat us because we have one player that is out. That doesn't really matter and we are still a really good team. We are going to prove it.
On changing the team's dynamic with Adams out of the lineup: No, [we have not changed the dynamic]. Norman [Powell] is a really good player also, so we are going to look to run a lot. He is really athletic so he can get out on the wing and that is something we are going to implement in our offense.
On Minnesota: They are really athletic and I know they can rebound the ball. I know if we really rebound the ball, it will be a good match-up. The challenge will be to box out. I know those guys are talented. We need to get up-and-down, and I'm sure those guys like to get up-and-down, so it should be a good match-up. It is a game where we are really going to try and run and get out and see what happens.
On how playing well in close-decision games this season will help UCLA in the tournament: We did a really good job of that and we just have to keep playing hard. I know that if we have intensity than we have the ability to beat anybody.
UCLA G Kyle Anderson
On how the team will compensate without Jordan Adams: We just have to bring the intensity that he brought on the perimeter, offensively and defensively. He does a lot of little things for us, but we'll just have to make up for it by playing hard, really that's all.
On the importance of bouncing back after losing to Oregon: It's really important because it's survive and advance now. We've usually done well after losses. We just want to get back focused and be ready to play.