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March 21, 2007

Arron Afflalo

Ben Howland

Josh Shipp


THE MODERATOR: We're ready to start for Josh Shipp or Arron Afflalo.

Q. For either player, one of the things that their guys were saying is they probably have a height advantage, post players, things like that. How big a factor might that be, their seven-foot center?
ARRON AFFLALO: I mean, we haven't been a big team all year, so we utilize our quickness, our athleticism, our mobility to take advantage of our teammates and the way we play.
It's just something we have to deal with and prepare for. Coach does a great job preparing us for it. It's just our job to go out there and execute.
JOSH SHIPP: Like he said, we've been out-sized all year. It hasn't really bothered us too much. We do a lot of double-teaming, rotating. We're just going to stick to what we do, and hopefully that works.

Q. I was talking to another college coach this morning, and he said that when he watches you play, it's like you play pretty intense defense all the time, but come these stretches where you flip on a switch and become like extra intense. He doesn't think you can maybe play that whole way. How does that happen? Is it something that somebody tells you to do? How does a coach get young players to buy into playing defense the way you do?
ARRON AFFLALO: I honestly don't think he has to sell us on that. He recruited winners. Everybody on this team, we love to win. We understand that playing defense is part of winning. Competing in every aspect of the game is what is going to allow you to win. Once you get used to winning, you see that defensive mentality, that aggression on both ends of the floor, allows you to keep coming out on top, you stick with it.
JOSH SHIPP: Just continuing off of what he said, like he said, we take it personal. We love to compete and work hard and win. I mean, we know that your shot may not always be on, but you can always play defense and stop your opponent. Defense is a huge factor for us.

Q. How about stepping it up?
JOSH SHIPP: I don't know if we step it up or not, but we try to play at a high level of energy every time we're on the court. Obviously sometimes you're not able to do that. It may look like you're doing it in phases. Whenever we step on the court, we're trying to play great defense.
ARRON AFFLALO: I think that's from a maturity level as well. As each guy gains more experience, we understand each situation within the game where there are times you need to raise your level of play or your intensity level. You can't always compete. You can attempt to, but your level of play is not always going to be at the highest level for 40 minutes, even though that's what you shoot for.
There are spurts in the game where you know this is the time, if you need to put forth that extra effort, this is the time to do it. We usually respond.

Q. How strange is it going to be to go out there on the court and look across and basically be looking in a mirror, seeing a team that that system was put in there by your coach?
ARRON AFFLALO: I don't know if it's necessarily a mirror image. Obviously they have a few things we run because of Coach Howland's past there. Again, that was five years ago. You know, things have changed. We don't really have too many ties to the school.
It's business as usual for us. We go out there and execute the things we do. Can't focus on them too much. You can prepare for them. But I think if we stick to our strategy, we'll be fine.
JOSH SHIPP: I mean, just like he said, kind of the same system, very similar, but different. We have different personnel. I mean, we go against this stuff every day in practice. I think bottom line it's just going to come down to who plays harder and who executes.

Q. How nice is it to not have to travel that far? Sacramento, then San Jose.
JOSH SHIPP: Definitely great. Like I said, it's a nice short flight, no long hours in the airplane or anything like that, which just here. It's good for the family and friends. They don't have to make a long trip either. It's definitely an advantage for us.
ARRON AFFLALO: That's what we prepare for, that's what we play for all year long. You go through your regular season, place importance on every game, so come post-season you place yourself at the best advantage for you to stay close to home, have your support system there.
We worked for it, we earned it, and hopefully we take advantage of it.
THE MODERATOR: Fellas, thanks.
THE MODERATOR: Our last interview of the day, head coach of the UCLA Bruins, by way of Fairview Elementary School, Ben Howland.
COACH HOWLAND: Kirk and I both went to the same elementary school. Way back from Santa Barbara days.

Q. What do you remember of the recruiting of Aaron Gray? When you look at him now, what do you say maybe compared to what your expectations were when you were recruiting him?
COACH HOWLAND: We thought we were getting a real steal. I thought he was very under-recruited. Jamie did a great job sniffing him out in some obscure gym during the summer, brought me over to look at him. We really liked him. Went and recruited him.
I remember it was Rutgers and us. Indiana was in and out. But at the end of the day, it was us and Rutgers. We were very pleased to get him. He had great hands then. Big, huge body. Very competitive, tough. Not surprised that he's done what he's done.
When I came to UCLA, I knew leaving Chris Taft behind, along with Aaron Gray, were two really good big guys that were going to have great careers at Pitt.

Q. What is it going to be like facing your old team, facing the old university?
COACH HOWLAND: Really only one player on the team I coached, and that was Levon Kendall, who was a redshirt freshman my last year. Bottom line is, this game is about the players. Jamie and I are going to be in this business hopefully for a lot longer than just tomorrow. So the focus in my mind, the NCAA tournament, is about the players. These kids have four years of college basketball. This is a very, very special honor to be this far advanced in the NCAA tournament, Sweet 16, be one of 16 teams left playing for the national championship.
Our players I know are very excited, looking forward to the challenge of playing a great team in Pitt that's a very good rebounding team, a team that plays very unselfishly, great defensive team, really competes on every possession, has outstanding depth, outstanding guard play. Again, the teams that are left now in the tournament are all really, really good and very well-prepared or they wouldn't be playing.

Q. When you see this team on film, when you watch it, do you notice the same plays you guys run?
COACH HOWLAND: There are some that are similar, for sure, some that we both ran, that we were running when I was at Pitt. But that's not any different. We know the plays that Indiana ran, that Weaver State, everybody we played. That's why you have really good staffs, you spend a lot of time in preparation for an opponent. It's how you execute those plays. More importantly, the personnel within those plays. It doesn't matter what you run; if you don't have really good players, they don't work. So it's about the personnel that's executing whatever it is that you're doing.

Q. Jamie talked about when he was trying to decide whether to come to Pitt, that you told him later that the best recruiting job you ever did was convincing his wife that it was a good move. What did you say to him to get him there and what did you say to her?
COACH HOWLAND: Actually, they weren't married yet. He was still fiancée-type relationship with Jackie. She's, like my wife, a great coach's wife. In other words, just super supportive, understanding. Jamie was very driven to get into the coaching profession, try to rise up the ladder. He saw the opportunity to be in the Big East and to get the East Coast experience.
Actually at that time, you know, it was a thing where Jamie had just gone from Northern Arizona, he had only been in Hawaii for 10 months, and it was a situation where he just got there. I worked very hard. It was really Steve Peterson that did a great job selling him, along with me. Steve with a D, the athletic director that hired me, was my first thing. I said, "Steve, I've got to get Jamie Dixon to come help me because I just know how good he is, and what a huge impact he would have in helping build the program." Steve did a great job, as he always did, with all of our recruits, including staff.

Q. What is the hardest thing, the biggest challenge in teaching highly recruited, romanced 18-year-old kids to play defense the way you play defense?
COACH HOWLAND: You know, kids want to win. It's about how you sell it, how you present it. My belief is the best teams in basketball at the highest level, whether that be the NBA or the high majors, those are great defensive players. All these kids want to be great players. They want to be part of a winning program that wins and has a chance to compete for championships.
They also know, you know, if you don't compete -- defense is a lot about, you know, competing, really working hard, being tough, being intense. You know, if you can't play that end of the floor, then you become a detriment to your team. Therefore, it's hard to play a lot of minutes. Everybody wants to play a lot of minutes.
My big thing is, you know, if you play really hard defensively, you don't make mistakes there, you really understand your job, it's one thing to miss shots, make errant passes out of aggression and trying hard, but it's really hard to ever have a player not try hard defensively and, therefore, let your team down.
But they learn through just being competitive every day. You know, the better you are defensively, it seems like more opportunities you're going to get to play offense.

Q. Some coaches will substitute on a defensive mistake more than an offensive mistake, do you do that?
COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, we really -- I really sub more by the clock than I do that. I mean, I don't want them to be worried about coming out. They're going to make mistakes. As long as they're trying their hardest, they're doing their best, the best they can do, they're going to make mistakes. The team that makes the fewest amount of mistakes is going to win.
But I may do that if a guy, I feel like he's tired or has been exhausted through playing so hard. Sometimes we'll do that. But usually pretty much they know when they're coming in and out based on a rhythm and a substitution pattern that I generally use.

Q. With similar systems and similar philosophies, how are you different from them? Have you seen something in them that you thought, I didn't know they did that?
COACH HOWLAND: Oh, yeah. They run a lot of quick-hitting sets, a lot of things we don't do. It's based on utilizing the strengths of their personnel, which starts with Aaron Gray inside. So there's a lot of different little sets that are little things to get the ball, bottom line, as close to the basket as possible for Aaron Gray. 'Cause if he catches it real close to the basket, it's going to be a problem, not only for us, but for anybody.
The one thing they do, too, more is they're playing much more zone. We didn't play any zone. They're showing zone and playing zone in just about every game.

Q. Jamie said last month that you weren't a hundred percent sure the success you started at Pitt could be sustained. First off, why did you think that? Are you surprised that Jamie has been able to maintain what you started?
COACH HOWLAND: That's not true, number one. I was offered other jobs after my second year and third year that were actually very good jobs out here in the west, and I won't go into naming them, but you can confirm that with Steve Peterson, if you like. So that's the answer to that question.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.

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