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March 27, 2008

Taj Finger

Anthony Goods

Trent Johnson

Mitch Johnson


COACH JOHNSON: To be still be playing in one of the 16 teams is very special but also excited and understand that we have a very, very tough matchup against a very, very good Texas basketball team. We are going to have to play our best basketball and play a complete game from start to finish.

Q. I heard that your point guard is underrated. Could you explain his value to the team to us?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think Mitch's value to us, you know, he's probably a co-MVP with Brook Lopez. Again, going into this year, we knew our ability to take care of the ball was going to be extremely huge. He's not necessarily the quickest or fastest or the strongest but he's a winner and an over achiever. He's been like that all his life. There's not a level of basketball he has not been exposed to and his dad is probably a former NBA player as you all know. He's a joy to be around and has an even keel and a level of toughness that's really appreciated by me.

Q. You have a history here and you know what it's like to work here in this town, I want to ask you what it's like to come back for such a big game, and when you walked in and saw those curtains, did it remind you of Autrey (ph)?
COACH JOHNSON: I don't know if it reminded me of ought rye, but I have a history with a lot of places and I have very fond memories and I have a great feel on what it's like to compete against the Texas Longhorns and the contingency of fans that they will bring. I've been very fortunate since I've been coaching whether it's been an assistant for a head, I've been at some of the best institutions around the country and coaches and people, and Rice certainly is right there.

Q. 2004 was your last Sweet 16 appearance and what experiences do you bring from that?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, for me, basically what I try to emphasize to these guys is it's still a game. Each time you progress and you advance, it seems like it gets bigger than life but you still have to go out and play.
The only thing I told them is we were five points away from playing Kansas in '04 that we had beaten to go to the Final Four. So you need to be able to take advantage of the opportunity that's in front of you, and the last thing is you have to enjoy this. You have to have fun.

Q. A lot has been made about your big guys and Texas's guards; who has the matchup edge, and how do you counter act their speed on the perimeter?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I don't know if you can counter act their speed on the perimeter. One of the things, we talk about match-ups, there's a reason they are 30-6 and they have done a very, very good job of beating a very, very good UCLA that we couldn't. As good as they are offensively, as good as their skill level, I don't think they get as enough credit for how good of a defensive team they are and that's the thing that concerns me. We need to get into the post and keep going inside out and keep it on the halfcourt but the bottom line for us, I'm really concerned about being able to score off of them because they are very competitive and they don't get enough credit for the defensive team that they are. James is special, Connor Atchley is a special kid, so you can go on and on.

Q. You had three battles with UCLA and you guys have played on the big stage and everybody is talking about Texas having a bunch of fans in this building but talk about the mental toughness of your team and your confidence in them to handle 20,000 people cheering against them.
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I have confidence because of some of the environment, some of the arenas that we've been in. No, I don't think there will be 30,000 people with Longhorns fans and the horn signs, I don't think we'll be in fronts of that. This team has done a very, very good job of understanding what it takes to compete and win. Going back into last year, one of the key wins I thought we had last year was going into Virginia. We were the only team that beat Virginia at their new arena last year.
So I don't think the fans and all that is going to be a problem. I think the concern for us is, are we going to be able to contain D.J. Augustin; are we going to be able to rebound the basketball like we have to. Those are going to be things that are going to concern us, as opposed to the stands and hostile arena and so forth.

Q. This late in the season, there's a rotation and also a bench. Talk about the contribution that they have done to get you this far when you've been faced with adversities.

COACH JOHNSON: The contributions from our bench is exceptional. Guys like Taj Finger who come off the bench and are capable of defending the four and under sized five and defending the 3; a guy like Lawrence Hill was all-league last year and has been selfless and has tried to do other things in terms of being a play maker. Brown was a walk on from Dallas and came on and played well at times and has sometimes got 10 minutes or 15 minutes and sometimes doesn't even play. I can go on and on down the line.
For some of us who have been around this team a lot. About a month and a half ago, when you looked at the league statistics, we had six guys in the top 20 in rebounding, and we didn't have one individual in the top 20 in minutes played. So that speaks volumes of the contribution from the team and every individual on the team.

Q. Talking about your adaptability being a strength of yours, when you think back to the time you spent here, how much did it help you when you got to Stanford in terms of the kind of kids you could recruit and the kids that would take athletics and academics seriously?
COACH JOHNSON: My biggest experience was being the guy to coach Wilson his first year as a head coach and that was beneficial to me when I took the job in Nevada. Basically I have had great experiences and I have been involved with a lot of good coaches and good people, so as I progress through this thing, you have to be yourself and you have to be flexible and you have to stay within yourself and know where your strengths and weaknesses are. One of the things that's very valuable to me is seeing what he went through his first year as a head coach.
In terms of the recruiting last year, whether I've been in Nevada or Utah or any of my stops, I've always tried to recruit the best student athlete possible because there's a definite correlation of good teams and players in terms of how they handle themselves academically and socially regardless of where you're at.

Q. Defense has been something that you guys have relied on this year. Could you comment on Texas's ability to shoot from long distance, particularly in postseason, whether or not you've seen the team like that this season?
COACH JOHNSON: Have not seen a team like that and it's very scary. Again, the hardest thing to do is when you have five guys on the floor defensively that are capable of putting the ball on the floor, either going left or right, creating their own shot, are extremely explosive and can shoot the perimeter shot; Texas have five guys like that. And so again, I go back to not how they are playing lately. I go back and look at how they handled a very, very good UCLA team earlier in the year. And a lot was made that that was Carlson's second game but you watch that videotape and you understand that that basketball team is more than D.J. Augustin's team. It's a very complete team and a very tough-minded team and a very skilled team.

Q. You've talked about this road and hostile environment, if you will; can you just describe what the specific obstacles are there? Is it the crowd getting in your kids head, the referees head? What is it that makes that a tougher deal?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, again, that's not a concern. The crowd is not -- people and the fans in the stands don't play. The concern for us is the guys on the floor, and that's the biggest concern. We have been in some very hostile arenas against have very, very good players and very, very good players and against some very, very well coached teams.
The bottom line is, we have to do what we have done all year long and I really feel that at this time of year, the team that has the ability to relax early on in the game and keep their composure and understand -- and it is a basketball game, we are playing basketball, and this is what we have to do, is going to be successful; I really feel that.

Q. Have you seen a disparate amount of zone against your big guys this year all year long? I was wondering what kinds of percentage that is, and do you expect that from Texas.
COACH JOHNSON: Well, we have seen a combination of everything, but I would say in our league, it's probably 60/40. But for the most part because it's zone or man, we are able to throw over the top, whether they front us with man or play behind in the zone. We have had some suck as an offense against some very good defensive teams is because we've been able to consciously shoot the ball in front of other people on the perimeter.

Q. Apologize if this is an old question, but having brothers on the team, does that present any benefits, challenges as a head coach? How do they work together to help each other?
COACH JOHNSON: No challenges, no problems, especially when they can play; it's a plus. It's been great. If there's been any negative is that when they go against each other in practice, you have to separate sometimes because they get after it pretty physically.
No, I think any coach in the country would say, you have two brothers like this with seven feet size and as good as they are, you'll have a hard time finding something wrong. So it's been great for Stanford and certainly it's been great for me.

Q. Along those same lines, I guess the Lopez brothers collect Disney figurines, and they look like really tough guys on the court. What does that say about them? I know they are from northern California, northern Californians do some interesting things.
COACH JOHNSON: Basically they have other outside interests, whether it's computers or whether it's one being emotional and one being quiet, they have other outside interests. Again, I think they are sophomores in college and they are 19, so that's pretty much it.

Q. Do you feel that Brook has to get 20-plus attempts tomorrow to slow this Texas team down?
COACH JOHNSON: No, not necessarily, because if Brook is getting 20 shots, then I wouldn't feel that Texas probably is not playing up to their level defensively. So for us, we have to have contributions from other people. I don't anticipate Brook getting 20 shots. We need to have five or six guys in the eight or nine-point range.

Q. I know you're not too big on the hostile environment topic, but do you address it with the team, or do you think it's such a non-factor that you don't even have to worry about it with this group of guys?
COACH JOHNSON: No, I don't address it. Like I said, they have been in some areas where it's been loud and it's been tough.
No, this is a mature, experienced basketball team. Each round you advance is pretty much the one thing I've told them that the crowds get bigger and the magnitudes in question in the game gets bigger but it's still a game itself and your ability to relax and do what you've done all year long is going to put you in situations where you can be successful or not.

Q. You mentioned the fact that you've been multiple places, but the disparity from a Washington to a Nevada to a Rice to a Stanford, what's been the key to make you the sort of successes that you've had thus far?
COACH JOHNSON: Make no mistake about it, it's good players. It's good players, good people and have a perspective from academic and social standpoint. You know, much can be made out of a Rice or a Stanford or private school but bottom line is there are kids across the country who are very, very good student athletes.
No secret, you look at some of the premiere programs in the country that have some consistency and rich history have some pretty good players, but also have good people. That's the bottom line for me and always will be is from a recruiting standpoint you get high-caliber individuals who have emphasis on education and doing things the right way.

Q. Much emphasis had been placed on your big guys and Texas's backcourt is a little unfair to both teams in terms of what you see out of the Texas front court and what folks should see more out of your backcourt.
COACH JOHNSON: Well, backcourt has got a supreme challenge in front of them and from a standpoint of Texas's front court -- okay. Brook Lopez played in USA Basketball. He played behind James at the four. Brook knows James extremely well, and he's probably the most improved post player in the country. He reminds me of Ryan Anderson at Cal who is very, very talented and long but more explosive. You don't win 30 games and lose six and not be very, very good.
Again, this team, D.J. Augustin, me as a head coach been doing this thing a long, long time I get caught up being a fan watching him play, he's that good. The ball is an extension of his hands. He gets a lot of credit, rightfully so but this basketball team is a lot more than D.J. Augustin, which is very, very scary.

Q. Two quick things. What did you first think of Brook and Robin when you saw them for the first time, and how has each one improved from the beginning of the year?
COACH JOHNSON: The first thing I thought about when I saw him for the first time, I thought, I'd better sign him, because it's job security. (Laughter).
The second thing that's more important is they have improved in their ability to make better decisions out of the double team. Brook's habits in terms of practice and everything else have improved. Robin has done a better job of dealing with his emotions. They are both very emotional, both very competitive and want to win so bad; sometimes it pushes them someplace where they shouldn't go.
Robin, we can all see he has improved offensively. Again, just watching their growth socially and athletically has been impressive. And it's a fact of any 19-year-old build like a man and has their skill set, they still are kids. They still are young kids.

Q. For a lot of people in the national media who have not seen you operate at Stanford last weekend was maybe a first impression for some, you getting ejected in the first half. Any thoughts on that, anything you hope people know about Trent Johnson other than being ejected in the NCAA Tournament game after that experience?
COACH JOHNSON: Yeah, that if we get off to a bad start, I'm going to get ejected again so we can win the game. (Laughter).
It's not a joke, it's true, I love winning, so whatever it takes.

Q. Mitch, everybody talks about and everybody knows D.J., Augustin, but what should people know about you and where do you think you've improved this season?
MITCH JOHNSON: I think I've improved just in the sense of taking care of the basketball really running the team and putting our team in the best position to win. I also think that a lot of players around me and us as a team collectively have improved which has made my job easier, obviously, and you know, just trying to run the show for the most part and keeping everything kind of running smoothly.

Q. Anthony, a lot of coaches talk about the importance of being a student athlete, but there are very few who put the emphasis on it, and obviously Trent has a history that it's important; how important is it to have a coach on the stands who understands the rigors of being an academic student at Stanford and handling your basketball skill as well?
ANTHONY GOODS: It's what you said, he understands our rigorous schedule, because there are a lot of study groups we have to make and some of us have tutoring sessions and whatnot, and he's done a great job of getting the resources to us and making sure we can stay on track, and academics always come first before we step on the court.

Q. Anthony, can you explain how your backcourt play with Mitch has improved this year and what has the contribution been toward the team getting better?
ANTHONY GOODS: He's running the show. He's taking care of the ball a lot better. He's shooting it a lot better and he's making the right decisions. You know, ever since last year, that was kind of our problem. We were turning the ball over too much as a team and he's kind of stepped up into the leadership role again this year. He's made sure everybody is taking better care of the ball this year. He's been our play maker for us this year.

Q. Is it a big matchup advantage having Brook and Robin down low against a team like Texas that's more perimeter-oriented?
MITCH JOHNSON: I don't necessarily know if it's an advantage. I just think there's not too many teams that start two seven-footers, so obviously we are bigger than most teams we play. So a lot of focus goes into that; rightly so, because a lot of times our game plan is against the big guys down low.
But their big guys are very good, also. Obviously James and Atchley, so I think it's more just something that's made up more by the media and things like that. I don't think we are going into the game thinking their bigs are going on overwhelmed or not going to be able to play well or anything like that. It's more strategic how we play. We like to dump it down low and try to wear teams down and things like that, and they obviously are led by two explosive guards.

Q. Taj, having the two Lopez brothers down on the block and you out on the win G how much does it make your job a lot easier offensively and defensively to be in a position to either dump the ball down low or pass it back out to the top?
TAJ FINGER: Yeah, it definitely makes my life a lot easier. I get tons of easy buckets because my man is going to double off and go to Brook or Robin, and then I can just come right back to the basket and kick it for an easy layup.
Also the other team has to concentrate so much on boxing those guys out, I can usually fly in, get an easy offensive rebound. Defensively, they are going to take a lot of pressure off me where they are always going to be boxing out their man and be there to get the rebound so I can just focus on my man, so that definitely helps me a lot.

Q. Your coach was talking about how he's not really worried about the home-court advantage with the Longhorns having so many fans; is that something you think about or are concerned about?
TAJ FINGER: No, I don't think so. We've played in a lot of tough arenas in the Pac 10, and I think we can almost feed off of that, give us some energy. You know, when your back's against the ball, you almost play better. So I don't think anybody on the team is worried about it or nervous about it. I think everyone has a lot of confidence going into the game.

Q. How much offensive energy do you feel like you have to sacrifice chasing those other two guards around?
ANTHONY GOODS: We are definitely going to have to exert a lot of energy because they are probably maybe one of the quickest backcourts in the nation and they can both shoot and they are coming off a lot of screens. We are going to have to exert a lot of energy, but slow it down on offense and catch our breath on offense and give it all we've got on defense.
MITCH JOHNSON: Just to add to that, like Anthony said, it's going to be a little similar to Marquette kind of who had James and guys who were pretty athletic as well and could attack. So I think it's going to be a total team effort and maybe if we get the ball coming off some screens or make them chase it a little bit had they are on defense and we are on offense, that will take some energy out of them, as well.

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