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March 30, 2007

Arron Afflalo

Ben Howland

Josh Shipp


THE MODERATOR: We welcome back Coach Howland from UCLA. We'll ask Coach Howland to make some opening remarks.
COACH HOWLAND: We're really excited to be back. It's a great, great honor to be a part of the Final Four. Just an unbelievable field this year. It was just a really well-run tournament.
You look at how the things went, you have to commend again the NCAA selection committee for the great job they did selecting the field, number one, and the seeding of the field, the way things have played out. These are four outstanding teams here now in Atlanta.
We're playing the No. 1 team, the No. 1 overall seed in Florida, defending national champion, who has a great team and has been super impressed in studying them in detail over the film work the last few days.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. When you take a look at this grouping of teams, do you see this as being a very competitive Final Four? If you do, how come?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, I think you look, there's a 1-2, 1-2 again match-up in the semifinals of the national championship. That speaks to how outstanding a job was done in terms of picking the field and how it was seeded.
We had to go a -- I'm speaking from our own experience -- a very tough road just to get to this point, to beat Weber State, who had a great year, to win over Indiana, who is very, very well-coached.
Kelvin Sampson does an incredible job. We were up 16 in that game. Had to fight back after having the game tied late in the game. To have to match up and face my very best friend and old team, University of Pittsburgh, Jamie Dixon, was very difficult. A great team again.
Then to go through Kansas. Kansas is definitely the best team we've played to this point and now we're on to I think the best team we'll have played all year in Florida.
You look at the other side of the bracket with Ohio State, who has had just an incredible season. Especially when you consider three of their top four scorers are freshmen.
Lewis is an outstanding senior who made the big shot against Xavier. Their freshman class has to be the best in the country obviously with big Greg inside and Cook. I just love Conley, Jr. He is an unbelievably good point guard. He plays like he's 30 years old when I watch Conley play.
On the other side, Georgetown, I'm so happy for John Thompson, III. His father, who I had a chance to get to know having been in the Big East, knowing the tradition of the Big East Conference. He is a great teacher, John Thompson, III.
I think Pete Carril, you go back to the old school, Pete Carril is truly a genius in college basketball. His philosophies you see how not only at Georgetown, but you've seen the NBA over the last decade both in Sacramento with the Wizards right now, a different number of teams that employ that offense.
We all thought of Princeton being the slow-down offense. If you employ it at the NBA level, these are the highest-scoring games. It's about passing, moving out the ball, cutting, knowing how to play without the basketball. It's really fun for a coach to watch.
My hat's off to John Thompson, III and Georgetown to be back in the Final Four, their first one since '85. I'm sure they'll be in here quite a few more times in their future the way they're recruiting.

Q. Noah and Horford are such dominant, big players. What kind of approach do you take when you're trying to get past guys like that? What attitude do you want your big men to take in the game?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, we know we're up against the two best big guys on the same team in the country. When you say "guys like that," there just aren't guys like that. I mean, they're obviously a rarefied duo. I can't think of another one in recent memory that has two lottery picks, because they are both NBA lottery picks when they decide to come out either this year or a year from now.
Everybody thought, for example, Noah would come out last year. I just really think it's special that he's having so much fun in college, doesn't need to do it financially to help his family, that he came back to have fun and stay a Gator for another year. He would have been the No. 1 pick.
Horford has a dad who is a pro, former pro player. Tito is a great guy. These guys, their fathers were former professional athletes. They have a special framework and point of reference that's probably unique compared to most other kids. They're big, tough, strong, physical, skilled, great passers.
One of the things I think when you see a good basketball player, if you see someone who is a good passer, he really -- you can't be a good passer and not have a good understanding. Good passing skills, understanding of the game, correlate. I love Coach Wooden's philosophy: If you're a good offensive player you that definitely be able to be a good defensive player.
They both defend. You go to the Florida team, they're shooting 53% on the year from the field. They're shooting 40% from three on the field. 42.3 in the last 22 games.
The way I look at things, when you shoot 40% from three, that's like shooting 60% from two 'cause you're making 12 points on 10 shots. You throw out their threes, you just look at the shots that they attempt. Inside the three-point line, they're shooting 59.8% as a team. This team in reality is shooting 60% from the field on the year. They're holding their opponents to 40%. That's a 20 percentage point differential. They outboard their opponents by seven boards a game. That is domination. They lead the country in points margin of victory over their opponents.
I mean, this is an incredible team. This is one of the great basketball teams in college basketball, in history. You have to give it to 'em. They would be the first team to win back-to-back championships since the Duke teams in the early '90s. So we know we're facing a very, very daunting challenge starting with their big guys.
They play inside out. They also have great guard play. Brewer is another kid who will be a top draft pick when he decides to go to the NBA. I love Green. I love Green. I remember coaching against his father as an assistant at UC Santa Barbara when I worked for Jerry Pimm. That guy is a great point guard, so tough. He's continued to improve his game. Humphrey may be the best shooter.
If they weren't playing here right now he'd be winning the three-point contest. I guess they had it yesterday. He's shooting 49% from three over the last 23 games, which to me is like shooting about 75% from two.
So they have a great team. Richard comes off the bench. Hodge comes off the bench. Those guys would start for most teams in the country. We've got our hands full.

Q. You've already alluded to this is the year of the heavyweight, the four of you here plus Kansas and Carolina. The six teams are all dominated by non-seniors, with the exception of Lewis, Butler. It's and underclass year with terrific freshmen in the first year of the NBA rule. Is this the face of college basketball for the near future at least?
COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, I think that rule is in place. It obviously helps college basketball from the standpoint of having the star players, the last 10 to 15 years would have gone straight into the pros right out of high school.
Again, I've been outspoken on the fact that I don't think it's fair to not allow a kid to go straight from high school to the NBA. I don't think it's right. I think I have great respect and love our kids in the armed services. They can go in the armed services when they're age 18. You can vote at a young age. You should be able to make that choice.
What I like the idea of that's been thrown out is that if you do elect to go to college, then it should be a two-year commitment. I do think that's a good idea. It's somewhat what they do in college baseball. You can go right out of high school to the pros, as many do. But if you actually go to college you have to stay for three years.
Football is a different animal because of the fact that it's such a violent physical sport. I totally agree with what they've done with football. To throw a 20-year-old out there with the men in the NFL is irresponsible just in fear for their safety, physical safety.
That being said, to have Oden playing right now, to have Kevin Durant playing. Kevin Durant, what a special talent he is. What a joy to watch. What a great player. We're going to have at UCLA next year the best high school player in the country coming to UCLA, which we're very pleased about, in Kevin Love.
Kevin Love is a big man at 6'10", 250 pounds, out of Lake Oswego, Oregon, who will be one of the best passing big men in years, years, years. Just great fundamentals. UCLA fans are excited about that.

Q. Can you talk about Luc Richard was going to have a family reunion, but it didn't happen.
COACH HOWLAND: Apparently his dad had to have some eye surgery. I don't know the exact details. It was in Geneva. His dad is a diplomat in Cameroon and spends a lot of time abroad, both in Geneva as well as in France.
Unfortunately, he was not able to make it because of the operation he had on his eye. He didn't want to worry his son or even tell him about it for fear he would worry for his health. He didn't even know about it. He didn't know about it till two days ago. He's fine. He's going to be okay.
That's why he's not able to make it.

Q. Can you comment on Luc's growth as a player and as a person as he's played so far from home and really excelled?
COACH HOWLAND: Well, first of all, as a person, you couldn't have a finer person. The person is a big part of why he's the great player he is. He is so disciplined, so tough, so team oriented, so unselfish, has a great ability to sacrifice, give himself up for his team. He's an outstanding student who takes his academics very seriously.
Speaking of his father, first time I ever talked to his dad in the recruiting process, his dad, I know Luc likes basketball, but that's not what's important to me. What's important to me is he gets a great education, which is why his dad signed off on UCLA, because he knows the value of a UC education and how that is looked upon internationally.
But Luc is a player who has grown. He does all the dirty work. He does so many of the little things that only people can really truly appreciate Luc are people that really know the game and really are able to study off the ball things that are happening both offensively and defensively, the great intensity level that he plays with, the passion.
He's a joy to be able to coach. Feel very blessed that we were able to recruit him to UCLA.
He has not been home to Cameroon since 2003. One of the things that's going to be really nice is there is a plan for him to go home, see his family, his friends, this summer when we get out of school in mid to late June, which both he and Alfred will be able to do this summer.
They've been in summer school the last two years. They're way ahead. They're both, at the end of this quarter, going to be on the three-year plan to graduate. They're going to be about a year away, maybe four quarters at most. They've done incredibly well academically in the classroom.

Q. I know when you had to play Pittsburgh that was kind of a difficult situation. Could you reflect on a few years back when you had to make the decision to leave there to come to UCLA. How tough was it? I know leaving a program you built, that can never be easy.
COACH HOWLAND: No, it was tough. That was four years ago just about here in another couple days that I came to UCLA.
We loved Pittsburgh, number one, my wife and I and our children. Had a great experience there. My daughter's graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in April. I'll be back for her graduation on the 28th, which I believe is a Friday, from the nursing school at Pitt, which is a great, great medical program. She's doing wonderfully. Her name is Meredith.
I've been very, very happy she stayed in Pittsburgh and finished her degree there. She was a freshman there my last year. Really it's been a dream come true to come back, for me to home. My mom and dad were living, lived in Santa Barbara, when I came back to UCLA. That was something that was very important to me, to be closer to family and friends.
But also just the fact that UCLA has always been the dream for me. As a child, watching the Wooden teams play with Dick Enberg doing the call. Each and every replay game on KTLA back in the day at 11:00. You know, watching those teams as I grew up as a young player, idolizing all the players, wanting to be a player, not being good enough to play at the level of UCLA.
Then as a young coach. That was always to me the pinnacle job: UCLA. That was the dream job since a kid growing up following it. So to have that opportunity was a once in a lifetime thing. There's no way I could pass it up.
Would have been very happy to have stayed at Pitt the rest of my coaching career had it not worked out. Loved the people there. You know, what a great family and setting it has. Very proud of what the great job that Jamie Dixon has done, continuing the program, which just finished again its sixth straight year in the NCAA tournament, and four out of six years in the Sweet 16. That program's on very solid footing. I'm very, very proud to have been a part of helping that.
Especially the most important part is hiring Jamie Dixon, how we got it going to begin with.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Howland, thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes Arron Afflalo and Josh Shipp.

Q. Arron, you've talked at the other locations about how difficult it was for you, last year's Florida game. With that and the rematch aspect, also the fact that Florida has a lot of players who came back specifically to be here, is there a greater sense of desperation in this game than there might be in other semifinals or big games?
ARRON AFFLALO: Well, obviously we have the memory of last year. But this is a brand-new team, brand-new personnel. They've grown a lot and matured a lot, have gotten a lot better. So have we since that point.
This is not a rematch; this is UCLA versus Florida from the '07 season. We're really looking forward to competes against. No. 1 overall team.

Q. Before the season, everybody was talking about how Darren was such a key in replacing Jordan. Why has he been able to excel at the level he has?
ARRON AFFLALO: First of all, Jordan was very good, as well. He played the game with a high IQ. He was a mature floor leader who was willing to take some big shots.
You know, Darren has a certain competitive spirit and some natural athleticism, some natural quickness that allows him to do some different things for us as a team, and that extends on the defensive floor and on the offensive end as well.

Q. You were here last year. You understand the unique nature of getting this far. What does it take? What does a team have to have to survive this format with the quick turnarounds?
JOSH SHIPP: For me, my experience was a little different because I was sitting watching last year.
But, I mean, the team, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, sacrifice, lucky at times. It's just a lot of things that go into getting back here.
All the teams that make it here are good teams. It's definitely going to be a war out there in the next couple games.

Q. Not really as UCLA players, but guys into college basketball, do you think the NCAA tournament and the Final Four specifically are better when there isn't one of these Cinderella stories?
ARRON AFFLALO: You know, as a fan, I know I enjoy both. I know the Cinderella teams are exciting to watch. You can see their competitive spirit, the joy they create, not for only the university, but within the communities that have a lot of underdog situations. They play for a lot more than just the game usually.
But in a stage like this one where we have a lot of powerhouse teams, it's good for the basketball world as well as the outside world simply because it is so competitive and the games are going to be great. It's just good basketball.
JOSH SHIPP: He pretty much said it all. I enjoy watching teams get knocked off. Hopefully it wouldn't happen to us (smiling).
Those guys, they deserve to be here just like any of the other teams. They work just as hard as we do. When they upset, I mean, they're good teams and they prove themselves out there. Like I said, it's just a fun experience watching that.

Q. Arron, last year when they defeated you, celebrated after the game, what do you remember from watching that? Did you feel any mixed emotions, sadness or jealousy, maybe even a little happy for them?
ARRON AFFLALO: Well, definitely wasn't happy (smiling). I had a lot of anger, a lot of pain as well. You know, I'm a guy at those point in times, me personally, I have a lot of humility about what I do. It's just a little different to watch other people celebrate against you. It brings about some different feelings.
But those times are gone. They came out. They came out and competed. They played very hard. We didn't put forth the effort that night that we needed to. They were well deserving of that championship last year.

Q. Arron, obviously a lot is made of your coach's film work. If you listen to him up here, he's obviously very detailed. Have you, over time, learned to kind of take what you really need to know into a game and not get really consumed and caught up with all the information he gives you? How easy is that?
ARRON AFFLALO: Well, no, actually. You know, we have to take in each and every detail because those are the little things that make us good as a team. The minute we begin to overlook those, start focusing on the bigger picture, will be the time that we lose, and generally is the time we have lost.
Paying attention to detail has been an important thing for us.

Q. As a player with such a great reputation as a defender, have you been impressed by what you have done in this tournament? The field goal percentage, points allowed. Has it impressed you and Coach Howland?
ARRON AFFLALO: Yes. But in the end, we have the personnel to play that type of defense. The way Josh sees the floor on that end, makes re's, the way Darren can pressure the ball, my willingness to try to stop whoever, the physicality and the mobility of our bigs allow us to play a certain type of defense that has really worked for us throughout the whole season.

Q. When your coach was in here earlier, he described you as having your hands full with Florida. Went into great detail about how dominant they are, how strong they are. Does he take a different tone with you, give you a sense of confidence about your chances?
JOSH SHIPP: I mean, he's pretty much the same way with us. I mean, Florida is a great team. We know that. He reminds us every day in practice. Just watching them on film, they have great bigs, they have great outside players. So it's definitely going to be a hard game for us.
I think the main thing he tries to focus on, the little details that are the key for us to winning games.

Q. A lot of championships are determined different ways. Can you imagine this tournament, a basketball championship, being decided a different way than it is now? What would be some of your ideas?
ARRON AFFLALO: I really don't have any because I really enjoy the whole tournament experience. It's just a lot of excitement, it's a lot of anxiety, some different pressures because it's all or nothing.
It causes great players to do great things and great teams to do great things. You appreciate it for the entire three weeks. There isn't four more deserving teams than the ones here.

Q. Arron, by the time most teams get here they have a go-to player who has led them here. As you look at Florida, who do you think would have the ball with 10 seconds to go with the score tied? Who do you think is their best player?
ARRON AFFLALO: Well, you know, they're a pretty versatile team. They have a lot of confident guys who are willing to make plays. I mean, just assuming with 10 seconds left, chances are you want the ball in your point guard's hand. Taurean Green has done a great job of leading them as well as being an assist man, keeping the composure of the team.
That's not to take away from what their bigs do offensively. I just think in those situations he's probably their guy.

Q. Considering where you were born, where you grew up, grew up rooting for, you're almost sort of destined to be in this role, weren't you?
ARRON AFFLALO: Yeah, you know, I was born at UCLA. I guess it's not coincidental. I'm from L.A. from Compton. I'm enjoying this experience, trying to take pride in not only defending my school but defending our city and defending everything that we stand for as a West Coast team, as an L.A. team, for everybody in the UCLA family.

Q. How much attention, if any, can you pay to the other national semifinal, and do you have just a passing curiosity as a basketball fan of seeing two seven-footers go at each other?
JOSH SHIPP: I mean, we're really focused on our game. That's a tough question to answer. All our attention is going to Florida, and hopefully we can win that game and then look forward to the other team.
ARRON AFFLALO: It is going to be a joy for a lot of people to see those guys go at it. Like Josh said, it's strictly preparation for what we have to do.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Good luck.

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