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March 31, 2008

Ben Howland

THE MODERATOR: We'll go right into questions. Coach Howland. Thank you for your time. Congratulations on the West Region championship and your third consecutive Final Four.

Q. You heard John mention he thinks it's going to be a crazy Final Four, that it all worked out this way. Just wanted your first impressions now that you know, since you last played Saturday, that it's all four No. 1s will be there or four teams that clearly separated themselves to some degree?
COACH HOWLAND: I would say the committee, NCAA tournament committee, deserves credit. They did a great job seeding the tournament.
But it is pretty amazing this is the first time this has happened. And it almost didn't happen. Especially to us. I mean, we had a very, very tough win over Texas A&M. That was obviously a very close call.
And I'm trying to think -- I think obviously Kansas would be the other one. I was watching that last shot. That was one of the things I did see yesterday. And obviously we didn't have the angle on TV.
But I just thought Richards' shot was going to go in. I thought that was their karma. And fortunately for Kansas it didn't. But it's a tough road to get this far as it is. And it will be even tougher now.

Q. Calipari mentioned the fabulous work you did here at Pitt. Could you reflect on that a moment and how much that helped you become a better coach?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, the opportunity that Mark Nordenberg and Steve Pederson gave me to be the coach there was really a special opportunity to begin with, coming from Northern Arizona, to hire some yokel from way out West that nobody back East had ever heard of was actually a little -- probably unexpected for most people back there.
And I'm really glad that they gave me the opportunity to come be the coach there and it was a great experience and I had a great four years in Pittsburgh. And had it not been for this opening here at UCLA, I would probably still be there, assuming they still wanted me.
I'm proud to see how well the program has continued under Jamie Dixon's leadership. It's been great. Winning the Big East championship this year, which is now the second one in the last six years is really special. Seven out of eight times that program has now gone to the championship game in the Big East tournament, which is the biggest deal in the Big East.
And prior to coming there, they had never been. So I'm really, really excited to see how the program is done and, no, there's no question it was a great experience because it allowed me to coach at the highest level. No league is better in the Big East year in, year out.
So I got to coach against some of the legendary coaches like Coach Boeheim and Coach Calhoun, and that was good to make you improve and challenge you.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about this being the third straight trip and what kind of things you think your players, the ones that are back for a second or third time, what they have learned from their trips to the Final Four and do you notice them trying to tell Kevin things that he needs to expect as a freshman coming into this environment?
COACH HOWLAND: You know what? We got back Saturday night late and we had yesterday off. Today they'll come in for workout in the weight room and they'll do some cardiovascular work, that we won't be doing anything on the floor until tomorrow.
So I don't know what kind of reaction they're having in terms of what they're telling Kevin right now. But we had one starter return from two years ago, our first Final Four team, to last year's team, and that was Aaron Afflalo. And we went to the championship game when Seth Bozeman was a senior and Ryan Hollins was a senior, and we had Jordan Farmar in his last year, along with Afflalo and Luc.
And last year's team we had three returning starters to this year's Final Four run with Collison, Luc, and Josh Shipp, who all started a year ago, and then we added -- we also had a returning starter, Lorenzo Mata, but we got Kevin Love, and so Lorenzo has been backing him up.
So I think we have a lot more experience of this group of guys than we've ever had in these past three years, and obviously we'll need it to give ourselves a chance because the level of play is so high.
I watched Memphis, 37-1, just incredible what they've accomplished this year. Used to be 38-0, as we all know. That Tennessee game could have easily gone either way. It's just an incredible challenge to try to plan to defend them and score on them because of their athletic ability.
And also they've got older guys. They have guys that have been there. When we played them two years ago in '06, a lot of these guys were on the team and they've added the best, arguably the best point guard in the country coming out of high school for sure in Rose.
And I think Chris Douglas-Roberts is an All-American. We have an All-American, Love. It's a team that has some similarities.

Q. You mentioned Kevin a little bit. Can you just talk about what he's been able to do in his freshman season. Seems like he's been everything that folks could have hoped and more?
COACH HOWLAND: He's been incredible. He came in with so much expectation and hype. He was on all the covers -- first of all, he and O.J. Mayo shared the cover of "Sports Illustrated" out here in the West at least. He was on the cover all of the basketball magazines. There was obviously a lot of expectation around our campus with the local media here. So to have all of that on your shoulders and to not only reach all the expectations but actually exceed them.
I think it's fair to say, we're talking about a guy who was MVP of the Pac-10. This is the best the Pac-10 has ever been. Six teams again were invited to the NCAA tournament, and three got to the Sweet 16. And he's the MVP of our conference and also has been on every first-team, All-American team that's come out so far.
So really points out what an unbelievable year he's had. He's averaging a double-double. What's great he's playing his best basketball since he's been at UCLA in the NCAA tournament. But this last weekend he was unbelievable.

Q. Coach, this sort of relates to Andy's question before. But when you look at the top seeds in this tournament and the tradition of the programs involved, some people are saying this is the most impressive Final Four, at least in recent memory. What's your take?
COACH HOWLAND: Any time -- and you've never had the four No. 1 seeds. That's pretty darn impressive. Then when you look at the experience of the teams, everybody has experience returning. Carolina was in an overtime game that would have had them there a year ago. They're unbelievably talented with Hansbrough and Thompson inside with Stepheson inside coming off the bench, their guard play with Lawson and Ellington are terrific, and then Danny Green coming off the bench. They're very, very talented. Wood, experience.
Kansas, the same thing. Kansas we were fortunate enough to get past them in the regional finals last year in San Jose, and they have everybody back from that team. Brandon Rush might have not have come back, but he blew his knee out and that's a blessing in disguise for their program, because here he is and he's not only back but he's back at full strength and probably improved.
I've seen him play a number of times this year. Man, is he good. Those inside guys, Arthur, he's a year older, Sasha Kaun is playing the best he's ever played. He's playing like a senior big. He's really, really good. Jackson inside. Obviously I love Chalmers. And then the little guy, Collins. They're all big-time players. Russell Robinson. And they're all experienced. All these guys have been there for the last few years.
Same thing we talked about Memphis. And we have an experienced group. We have six guys that have either been on two Final Fours or at least one. So it's a very experienced field. It's got -- all four have names that have been in the Final Four before. I saw all the hype in reference to that. But it's more about the players to me.
There's a lot of really good players.

Q. Xavier coach Sean Miller said after your guys' game the other day about Darren Collison that when the shot clock is running down, and even the game clock, he has a, quote, dagger ability. I wanted to ask you about what makes him so calm and what makes him so special when the shot clock is running down like that.
COACH HOWLAND: First of all, he's used to it. He's done it a lot over the past couple of years. He plays a couple of minutes. But Darren is very, very bright. He's got a good feel for the end of possessions and making plays for himself and for others. I thought one of the big plays against Xavier was made by Kevin, where we were up 12 and he got an offensive rebound on a missed foul shot that we took and kicked it back out to Darren who then knocked down a long 3 to make it to 15.
But Darren's very good. A lot of ball screens. People try to trap it or people try to plug it. They play it different ways. Try to squeeze it and go underneath it. And he's able to read what they're doing and still make pretty good decisions and you have to guard him. He's shooting 66 percent from 3 in the tournament. He's shooting over 53 percent on the season from 3. That's a pretty incredible number.
You have to be out and respect his jump shot.

Q. Coach, Calipari said this morning he compared the way you guys played at Princeton on steroids and also mentioned you guys are like a cat with nine lives, you keep winning so many close games. How would you characterize his team?
COACH HOWLAND: I think, number one, they have a great team. It's really athletic, really good guard play when you look at Rose and you look at Chris Douglas-Roberts and Anderson. You have three really, really good perimeter players. Those are the three leading scorers.
I think they play with a lot of passion. They're really hard and physical. They block a lot of shots inside, both Dozier and Dorsey are very, very good shot blockers. So they really get out and extend.
When you get past those guys, you gotta deal with those two big guys that are swatting shots. So they're a team that plays really, really hard. They're very, very well coached. Because they can score you on a half court.
When you look at the teams, they average 79, almost 80 points a game; we average 73, almost 74. I think there's 6.5 points total difference in terms of scoring average between the two teams. We hold our opponents to 58; they to 61. This is a 3-point differential there.
And we've played similar schedules. Their strength of schedule going into the NCAA was 27. Ours was 14.

Q. You played against all the great -- you played, saw all the great guards in the '70s in Southern California and all up and down the West Coast in the '80s and '90s, and then coached against all the great point guards or point guard types in the Big East and Pac-10. When you look at Rose, does he remind you of any of them. Is he a hybrid of some of them or is he unique to himself?
COACH HOWLAND: He reminds me honestly of Jason Kidd. He has a Jason Kidd type body. He's six-three, six-four, just so strong and physical. He overpowers you. I mean, I watched him get a rebound yesterday. He grabbed a two-handed rebound way above the rim early in that game and starting the fast break. He defends like Kidd, and he's a much better shooter at the same stage.
I can't think of much higher praise to give a player, because I love Jason Kidd. What a great winner and a great player. But this kid, more than any point guard I've seen, reminds me of Jason Kidd, and I think that's who he'll be typed at the next level.

Q. The past two years of the eight teams that made the Final Four, from that stance, six 1 seeds and two 2 seeds, which is the first time there's been no 3 seeds for a two-year span, also the two-year span was when the NBA rule came in. Is that a coincidence or has that rule taken some of the parity out of the game?
COACH HOWLAND: I don't think that rule, for example, affected Florida at all. You didn't have Noah or the big kid with the Atlanta Hawks now, fortunately, for me, I'm trying -- Horford. I forget his name because he killed us so bad.
But none of their players were affected by that, for example. I think Oden would be the one guy that would have gone for sure right out of high school. There's nobody in last year's field. This year's field it probably will be Love and Rose on those two teams and would have come out right away.
But other than that, I don't think anybody else would have. I don't know how much effect it would have. I'd say just a couple of the players in the last two fields.

Q. Wanted to talk to you about Michael Roll, how he's handled the situation he's in, in terms of the injury and part of the team and now he's going to have to watch the whole situation?
COACH HOWLAND: Michael had a tough year from the standpoint that he had plantar fascitis really bad and he had it bad enough that he really felt like he wanted to try to get an injection, which was something I was against because I thought it would increase the chance for it to rupture, which it did.
So that thing ruptured right after our first exhibition game in practice the next day and then he was playing great, too. It's the best he's ever played since he's been here in his two plus years of being here.
And then he tried to come back after a month out and rehabbing it and he was back for another -- actually played in a couple of games and he was back for probably another three weeks before it completely ruptured again.
So it's been very frustrating for him the injury, but he's been a great supporter. You see him on the bench there. Always talking it up to his teammates. He's an unbelievable teammate and a great kid.
So even though he hasn't been able to play in any of these games since early in December, he's been an integral part just emotionally because he's really close to these guys having been on the previous two teams. Has a great relationship with his teammates and is very, very supportive.
So I'm really proud of Mike in that respect. And he'll have red-shirted this year, medical red-shirt, and then he'll have two years left starting next year.

Q. How did you come through health-wise?
COACH HOWLAND: You know, Luc had some treatment yesterday on his ankle. There was some swelling in it. It wasn't real bad. But that's going to be typical for the rest of the season. He's had the sprain close enough to where he still had to come back and help us.
But other than that, I think pretty good.

Q. Being from California and your relationship with Coach Wooden, can you talk about what it means to you personally to maintain the tradition with three in a row and maybe what it would mean to you to win one?
COACH HOWLAND: Again, I had a great experience and would have easily seen myself staying in Pittsburgh for the rest of my life were it not for the opportunity to come to my childhood dream job all the way through as a young assistant coach out West.
And my relationship with Coach has obviously been special for me just to have the opportunity to get to know him and be a part of his program and be the actual caretaker at this time of Coach Wooden's UCLA program, because that's what it is. It's his program and always will be. And so I'm proud that our team has experienced a lot of success these last three years and, of course, it would be very special to win a national championship. I think that's why everybody is in this business, to have that as a goal, and it's obviously a very elusive and difficult goal to reach.
And Roy already has one and Carolina just a couple of years ago, and the other three of us would love to get one as the head coach leading the program.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach Howland.

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