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March 19, 2008

Taj Finger

Trent Johnson

Mitch Johnson


THE MODERATOR: We'll open up the floor to questions.

Q. Just wanted to get, Mitch, your impressions of Cornell's three-point shooting ability and what you feel Stanford has to do to try to limit those open looks?
MITCH JOHNSON: From the film we've watched, definitely very good shooting team. I think we watched some of the game film against Duke, and they definitely didn't look very intimidated at all and played very aggressively and seemed like they do a lot of good things to get their perimeter open for three-point opportunities. I think they shoot over 40% on the year. So that will definitely be something we'll focus on going into tomorrow's game.

Q. And if you could extend that also to Wittman, in particular, and how he gets his open looks and what Stanford has to do against him?
MITCH JOHNSON: I think they do a good job of floor spacing. I think he does a very good job, too, of, especially early on in the play, kind of getting his feet ready. He catches and shoots pretty quick. I think we'll just have to do a good job of staying with him and not really getting lost in transition and giving up some three-point shots in transition.

Q. This is for both players. How are you guys handling this? You know, you guys are expected to win now. It's different for you guys. I mean, how are you guys handling this as the favorite?
TAJ FINGER: You know, basically just like any other game. We know that Cornell's a tough team. Obviously, they won the Ivy League. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night if you are not going to play 100% and play real hard. So everyone's real focused and we're just going to play really hard no matter who we play.
MITCH JOHNSON: I think, like Taj said, I mean, it's the NCAA tournament, so you think everyone will be up and ready for the game. You know, now, if you lose, there's no second chances, no tomorrows. So I think everyone's playing with their backs against the wall. And we're just excited to go out there and play in the NCAA tournament.

Q. This is for Mitch. Does it ever enter into your game preparation or thinking about your opponent, someone like Cornell who you know, are going through some of the same academic difficulties that you guys might be going through. Does that help in your preparation or is this just basketball?
MITCH JOHNSON: It's just basketball. I think, you know, however people's schedules fall for academics and things like that is pretty minor. I think at this point of the year, you play 30-odd games, you've been on the road so you know how to kind of juggle all that at this point. If you've been successful enough to get to the NCAA tournament, all the outside factors are basically thrown out the window and it comes down to that 40 minutes of basketball.

Q. Just following up on that, Mitch, then, what do you think of the people who are calling this the battle of the nerds?
MITCH JOHNSON: I mean, that's fine. I mean, we both go to two good academic schools. And I guess I'd rather get publicity for going to a smart school than not a smart school. So at the end of the day, I guess it's just another feather in both our hats and Cornell's, that we're able to be successful in basketball and be able to go to such successful academic schools.

Q. Mitch, curious, when you saw film of Louis Dale, what your impressions of his game were and what he does within Cornell's system?
MITCH JOHNSON: I think he a key to a lot of what they do. I think he plays at a very good pace. I think he pushes the ball, but really never gets too out of control, from what I've seen. He makes a lot of those guys better on his team. And seems like he hits a lot of open jump shots when you might start helping too much on the other guys. So I think he kind of is just their general and does a lot of things.
And, you know, he's a tough player. Be exciting to go up against him. I think he was player of the year, too, in their conference, So he is obviously a big part of what they do and will probably come out and be very aggressive tomorrow.

Q. Taj, you guys obviously are going to decide things on the basketball court tomorrow, but if it came down to a classroom match-up which school do you think might prevail?
TAJ FINGER: I'm not going lie it's probably going be them. Hopefully tomorrow we'll show we're the better basketball team. But, you know, we have a ton of smart guys on the team, but I think we might be a little bit more geared to basketball.
THE MODERATOR: Any other questions? Taj, I will ask you, being a New York native, are you familiar with Cornell?
TAJ FINGER: Not really. I think I've got one friend from high school who goes there, but I think it's about five hours from my hometown, so not really.
THE MODERATOR: Any other questions? All right. Seeing none, we'll dismiss the student-athletes.
Thank you, gentlemen. Good luck tomorrow.
We're joined by head Coach Trent Johnson. As usual, we'll open it up with a statement from the coach, then open the floor to questions.
COACH JOHNSON: Needless to say, we're excited to be here, and, you know, probably more excited to be out of an extremely tough PAC-10 conference season and PAC-10 tournament. So we're looking forward to playing somebody else quite frankly.
THE MODERATOR: Open up the floor.

Q. You were talking about the PAC-10 and everything, and how much of a toll do you think that takes on teams as opposed to how well it prepares them for something like this?
COACH JOHNSON: I think the most important thing is it prepares you for something like this. You know, there's not a level of skill, level from a player's standpoint, there's not a team in terms of what they can throw at you or throw at us, that we haven't seen up all year. So I think more importantly it prepares you for the NCAA tournament. Throughout the year, if you lost focus on a possession defensively or offensively, in our league, you were going to struggle and probably going to get beat.
Now you go into the NCAA tournament, where it's one game and if you don't play well you go home. So I think it's prepared us.

Q. For years, the PAC-10 and the Ivy League were the last two conferences that didn't have post-season tournaments. Now obviously the PAC-10 has one and the Ivy still doesn't. Are there any disadvantages or advantages that you see. I mean, Cornell's had a lot of time off.
COACH JOHNSON: They're probably more rested and fresh. No, not at all. I don't think there's any advantage or disadvantages. You know, for us, we just know there's about three to four things that we need to do really well that we've done decently well all year - that's defending, rebound, and take care of it.
Cornell is a basketball team that's won 15 in a row. Their last lost was January 6, versus a very exceptional Duke team at Cameron Stadium. They beat Siena, which is a basketball team we couldn't beat. They dominated Yale, and Yale took us to a six- or seven-point game at our place in Maples. So we know, for us, we need to be ready to play as well as we played all year to be successful.

Q. You played, I think, it's your sixth game in about the last two weeks and here in Southern California, kind of mixed success - that heart break against UCLA, won two games in the PAC-10 tournament, do you feel comfortable being down here or would you rather be some place else in light of some of the endings you've had in some of the games down here?
COACH JOHNSON: I feel comfortable playing this time of year, no question. I feel comfortable being here or anywhere else. Anywhere they want to send us. As long as it's the NCAA tournament, we're comfortable. Six games that my kids would much rather be playing than practicing, trust me.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, you want to address the size difference between your team and Cornell. Obviously, the Ivy League, they have one seven-footer, you have the Lopez twins. What's the difference or the challenge for you guys.
COACH JOHNSON: The challenge is going be for us to be able to defend their shooters. I mean, they have five or six kids that can shoot the ball from deep. We're going to have to guard the three-point line. I don't think our size is an advantage. We had two seven-footers and we've had a size advantage all year long. At this nature of the game, I think the advantage, if you have any, is who going to play, and play like they played all year long and be relaxed in this environment and be able to play. That's the advantage, the kids or team that's able to just relax and enjoy being here and play like they played all year long.

Q. What types of things before the season did you tell Brook you wanted him to develop and improve upon and how did he do that, whatever those things might have been?
COACH JOHNSON: I don't know if I can say those things on the air (laughing). For the most part, just wanted him to improve his practice habits, improve his rebounding, improve his defense.
Brook is very, very gifted offensively. And that's one of the areas as a coach that you have to be smart enough know not to mess with. But, you know, Brook, Robin, all our post players, I think the reason they're having so much success is because of our perimeter play. As valuable as Brook Lopez is to our basketball team, Mitch Johnson has done an exceptional job of be doing one of the lost arts in basketball, that's being able to feed the post and manage the team without scoring.
You know, so Brook, Robin, Todd, Lawrence, without the play making ability of Mitch, without the play making ability of Fred Washington, Anthony Goods, and guys like that, I don't think we'd be here right now.

Q. Why do you think that has been a lost art, being able to pass the ball into the post, and what's the toughest thing about that?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think because so much emphasis on what you see on TV is the guy who scores, the guy who dunks, there's not a lot of paying attention to the fundamental essence of what the game's about, passing and catching the ball and being able to understand angles, being able offensively and defensively. I mean it's the fundamental issues that sometimes we lose sight of.
And, yes, there's something to be said about a kid who can shoot a deep three or a kid who can jump over the top of somebody and dunk. But, you know, when you can pass the ball in the post, you can catch it with two hands, you can set a good screen, all those plays are just as valuable as scoring the points.

Q. Obviously we can see that the Lopez twins, their game is a little bit different, their hair has gone in different directions. What are the differences in their personalities both on and off the court?
COACH JOHNSON: Robin is probably the more emotional one, and Brook is probably the one that's more quiet. Although, you know, you put a microphone in front of him on a good day, he'll talk to you, too. But the I think the safe thing to say is Brook's a little quiet and more reserve, whereas Robin's probably a little more emotional.

Q. Coach, I just wonder what you said about getting into a comfortable pattern of play, getting comfortable in this setting, and if it makes any difference if you are a slow-down team or a team that wants to pace the game, as opposed to speed it up, in terms of getting into a comfortable feel?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, you have to do what you have done all year long to get you here. And it's been my experiences in basketball at all levels that when you get to all championship-caliber play, the game starts to be a half-court game.
So I think we're prepared to play a half-court game. We're prepared to play fast. Probably not because that's not what we've done all year long. So we're going to defend, we're going rebound. We're going to try to limit a team's transition baskets. We're going to try to get the shooters. We have to take care of the ball and somewhere along the line, efficiency on offense is going be important for us.
THE MODERATOR: Any further questions? Seeing none, we'll thank you, Coach. Good luck tomorrow.

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