Pac-12 coaches teleconference: How to stop the perfect Wildcats
Arizona remained perfect through 20 games this season, and during Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call, some coaches gave their ideas about how their peers can bring down the No. 1 team in the nation. A number of the conference's coaches also gave their two cents about NCAA graduate student transfer rules.
Stanford's Johnny Dawkins
Here's a question that has an easy answer. How will the Cardinal beat the No. 1 Arizona Wildcats on Wednesday? “We have to play well, of course. We're at home, make sure we stay disciplined, defend. And we have to do it together,” Dawkins said.
Dawkins can't pinpoint what makes Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon so great, but in watching game film, he does notice the forward never stops moving. Dawkins said he has one of the best motors in the game. “You watch him, it's beautiful,” Dawkins said.
Stanford guard Chasson Randle used a down year in 2012-13 for the better. Averaging 19 points per game this season, he's shooting nearly 50 percent overall and nearly 40 percent from three-point land. “He's our leading scorer, he's been very aggressive, and he's playing the way we want him to play,” Dawkins said. “Last year was a difficult season for him. He's taken it to heart.”
Utah's Larry Krystkowiak
Utah gave the No. 1 Wildcats a run but fell in Tucson, 65-56, this weekend. In more “how-to-stop Arizona talk,” Krystkowiak said it might come down to getting a short, seven-man rotation into foul trouble. “The fact that they aren't overly deep, if you can somehow get them in foul trouble, potentially, maybe they're going into some lineups they're not as comfortable with,” he said.
Krystkowiak, like CU coach Tad Boyle, believes Arizona's Nick Johnson is in the lead for the Pac-12 Player of the Year award. On top of Johnson's defensive capabilities, Krystkowiak thinks Johnson plays with quite a bit of maturity on offense. “I think what comes to mind in a one-word statement is 'poise,'” Krystkowiak said. “He doesn't take bad shots, and he just seems to make the right play at the right time.”
Freshman Kenneth Ogbe, who is from Germany, has dealt with cultural adjustments and a language barrier on top of the usual freshman transition to college. But he's earned spot minutes for the Utes and even scored 12 points two weeks ago against UCLA. “Some players are gamers,” Krystkowiak said. “Sometimes we see a little more confusion in a practice session because he's so eager to learn.”
Colorado's Tad Boyle
After his team lost two games at the Arizona schools, Boyle found himself fielding quite a few questions about the No.1 Wildcats. He believes Arizona's biggest win came out of Pac-12 play. “Arizona has shown that mental toughness, not only at home, but on the road,” Boyle said. “I look at their road win at Michigan. If you can win at Michigan, you can win anywhere.”
Boyle said he doesn't pay much attention to Pac-12 Player of the Week honors. That said, he does have an idea of who should win the Player of the Year award. “It's such a hot and cold thing,” he said of the weekly nod. “Nick Johnson, in my opinion, up to this point is the Player of the Year in our league. It's not even close to me.”
On dealing with juniors who might go to the NBA, such as guard Spencer Dinwiddie: “The No. 1 thing is you've got to talk to them about it because it's on their mind. It's the elephant in the room. Those hopes and those dreams are there, and they're real.”
Oregon State's Craig Robinson
Robinson approaches his players leaving for the NBA by looking at the money. He once dealt with guard Jared Cunningham leaving for the league after his junior season, and the “cut-and-dry” philosophy, in Robinson's eyes, came when it was clear his player would get guaranteed money by going in the first round of the draft. “I'm an economist by training,” Robinson said. “It just becomes a very economic decision in my eyes. Jared Cunningham was going to be a proven first-round pick. (Current forward) Eric Moreland wasn't a first-round pick.”
Oregon State came into what would become an 87-81 loss to Washington with one goal – don't let Husky guard C.J. Wilcox get hot. They accomplished that by holding Wilcox to 14 points, but UW freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss scored 32. “We were willing to roll the dice with having anybody else (than C.J. get hot),” Robinson said. “I was pleased with my team for following my game plan.”
Does guard Roberto Nelson have a limit on his shooting range? He's scored at least 21 points in his last five games. “Every now and then, he'll take a shot that's forced or he's trying to carry his teammates on his back, and I'll point that out to him, but it's rarely a distance issue,” Robinson said.
Washington's Lorenzo Romar
On forward Perris Blackwell's success at offensively rebounding the ball: “He does a good job of reading where it's coming off (the rim). You see him there, but it's hard to root him out of there.”
Romar said the best way to defeat No. 1 Arizona is by starting the game on a scoring tear. “They defend so well, that's not going anywhere,” Romar said. “There can be long stretches where they can't score but you can't score either. It would have to be one of those nights. If you come out and aren't knocking shots down, it's going to be a long night.”
Arizona's Sean Miller
Miller believes sophomore Brandon Ashley and freshmen Aaron Gordon and Elliott Pitts won't try to do too much as they play in front of family and friends in the Bay Area this week. “I think they're excited to come home,” Miller said. “I think the biggest thing they want to do is perform well. Their hearts and minds are in good places right now.”
On fifth-year players who aren't required to sit out one year if they graduate and transfer to a graduate school: “We had a player last year, Mark Lyons, who was a big part of what we did. If you ask me just overall, I guess I'm somewhat confused. For the betterment of college basketball, have someone sit out, have a year in residence ... regardless of the circumstances.”
Miller says the Wildcats aren't talking about their 20-0 start to the season. He believes his players know there's still enough games left where a first-place Pac-12 finish could slip out of their grasp. Then again, Miller is appreciating where his team stands. “I'm smart enough to know it's not going to be like this every year,” he said. “I think we take some time to step away and enjoy it.”
California's Mike Montgomery
While coaching at Stanford, Montgomery was once in Arizona's situation, where the pressure of a perfect season built up to become too much to bear. “I couldn't deny it, I tried. I felt it. It's pretty unique in today's time. The longer you go, the more it becomes a reality and it begins to sneak into your subconscious,” Montgomery said.
Cal faces Arizona on Saturday, and if the Golden Bears win, it might be doing the Wildcats a favor – in Montgomery's eyes. A loss here or there alleviates the pressure of remaining perfect but doesn't go too far in how a team will play in the postseason. “Ultimately, your goal is to win the championship,” Montgomery said. “That (regular season) loss will ultimately have nothing to do with that.”
Washington State's Ken Bone
The combination of point guard Danny Lawhorn leaving WSU before the season began and shooting guard DaVonte Lacy's injury issues has hurt what was supposed to be a deep backcourt. “Last year, our priority would be to go out and get a point guard. We found the guy we wanted and needed, and unfortunately he's not here now. It's a much different group than I anticipated,” Bone said.
Bone said there's a chance Lacy could return from a rib injury Saturday against Washington. He added the team's leading scorer, who had an emergency appendectomy before the rib issue, hasn't joined practice yet.
The Cougars' defense has showed signs of being where Bone wants it, but the offense hasn't done it any favors over the course of a 1-7 start to conference play. “The offense has to match the defense,” Bone said. “It's not like football where you have an offensive unit and a defensive unit. We have not been a very good offensive rebounding team, yet, we've missed a fair share of shots.”
UCLA's Steve Alford
Alford doesn't see his team having a letdown against two very desperate schools in Oregon this week. “They've been consistent with their efforts,” the UCLA coach said. “We're not in November anymore. We've got a pretty good rotation that's set, we've got roles. I'd hope the urgency and effort isn't going to be a question.”
When UCLA visits the Oregon Ducks on Thursday, Alford will face a familiar opponent in coach Dana Altman. They clashed in Missouri Valley Conference play, when Alford coached at Southwest Missouri State – now Missouri State – and Altman was at Creighton. “We go way back to the Creighton-Missouri State games,” Alford said. “I love the way they play. Defensively, you can look at numbers, you can look at all those things. There's more possessions in the game when you play Oregon. We play a game of high possessions.”
Arizona State's Herb Sendek
The Sun Devils lost transfer Evan Gordon to Indiana this offseason but replaced him with Jermaine Marshall, who left Penn State for ASU. Sendek knows how to play by the rules and recruit older players who can impact the team immediately. “We do have what's almost a free agency market in the spring,” he said.
How do programs track all the available players in a transfer market? Between social media, media members publishing lists of transfers and university-to-university exchanges of information, it's quite easy. “There's so much information,” Sendek said. “If you just followed everybody on Twitter, you'd know who's leaving or who wouldn't.”
Sendek said he believes center Jordan Bachynski is one of the most improved players in college basketball. After injuring himself during his senior high school season and then heading off on a two-year mission, the 7'2" big man started from the bottom and is on course to set a Pac-12 record in career blocks. “In a lot of ways, he started at the very beginning,” Sendek said. “He's established himself as really an outstanding player.”
Oregon's Dana Altman
The Ducks blasted Wazzu 71-44 this weekend, and the defense that was lost all Pac-12 season long seemed to have found itself. “Our communication was better, our transition D was a little better and our rebounding was better,” Altman said. “We caught a break there; they missed some shots they normally hit.”
Next up for Oregon is a tough UCLA squad that has two freshmen impact players coming off the bench. Zach LaVine and Bryce Alford have been playing solid ball. “I think they're both really talented and come in and provide a big spark. LaVine's athleticism is off the charts and Alford does a nice job of handling the ball and getting guys in the right spots,” Altman said.