Pac-12 coaches teleconference: Dana Altman rallies the fans
Arizona State, Colorado, Stanford and Cal lead the list of teams that need wins to secure postseason berths. It leaves much to be accomplished in the final week of the Pac-12 regular season and the tournament, which starts March 12. Coaches talked postseason positioning during the Tuesday teleconference call. Additioanlly, Oregon State's Craig Robinson talked analytics, Tad Boyle discussed the Colorado Buffaloes' need for role player production, and Washington State's Ken Bone complimented the growth of forward D.J. Shelton.
Oregon's Dana Altman
Oregon defeated Arizona State in an unusual Tuesday night game to extend their winning streak, using their strong home court advantage to improve its postseason hopes. Altman visited a Sigma Chi fraternity house on Monday, reports The Oregonian, and went around campus to ask Duck fans for their support. “The response from students was great,” Altman said. “Easy duty.”
Altman said the perception of the conference outside the Pac-12 has been helped by a deep league but also top dog Arizona. “Arizona's done so much for our league this year,” he said. “It brings a lot of media attention and national attention to our league. Perception is reality.”
Creighton, Altman's former team, isn't in the Missouri Valley Conference anymore, but the Oregon coach is happy for Wichita State, which completed a perfect 31-0 regular season last week. “Gregg's (Marshall) done a great job. They've always had a great tradition. There was always a handful of programs in the Valley (the Missouri Valley Conference) that've had a great basketball tradition. No matter what, when you win 30 games, it's a pretty good season.”
Oregon State's Craig Robinson
Robinson believes his team may have to win the Pac-12 Tournament to get an NCAA Tournament bid, but beating the Arizona schools will still be mighty important if they don't. A win against, say, No. 3 Arizona could be mighty helpful. “We've been fighting so much just to improve on a daily basis, I'm not versed enough on RPI and selection to have any idea,” Robinson said. “If you beat the No. 3 team in the nation, then you get the attention (of the NCAA selection committee). We view this as an opportunity, I won't say to get an at-large bid, but to get a look.”
A businessman by trade, Robinson said he's not extremely reliant on advanced analytics other than to “back up intuitive decisions,” he said. “I would probably consider myself an instinctual guy, funny enough. I don't rely on them to make the ultimate decision. I haven't found a good way to use it as an in-game tool that will help you win right away.”
Robinson will be sad to see Roberto Nelson go but admitted he isn't "articulate enough to express" his feelings about the senior guard. “I've talked many times of what a good character and a good citizen he's been,” the OSU coach said.
Colorado's Tad Boyle
Boyle's team is going to rely heavily upon Askia Booker, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson in the final two games of the year at Stanford and Cal, not to mention the postseason. But the Buffs need a little more. “Those three guys we rely on pretty heavily,” the CU coach said. “Quite frankly, the effectiveness of our team is going to be determined by other role players.”
Freshman guard Jaron Hopkins and sophomore guard Xavier Talton are two players who Boyle thinks can contribute and help Colorado's three best players. “Jaron has the ability to be one of our best perimeter defenders. We would like to see him that on as a challenge,” Boyle said. “Xavier Talton is a guy who again can help us on the defensive end. Our defense is not where it's supposed to be.”
Against Stanford this week, Boyle says the biggest challenge will be stopping “four guys capable of going off for 20 points.” Those four guys are Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis.
Washington State's Ken Bone
Quietly, forward D.J. Shelton has excelled this season behind guard DaVonte Lacy. Bone said he spoke with Shelton around Christmastime about adding more focus to the rebounding part of his game. It's worked. Shelton has hit double-figures rebounding in seven of WSU's last eight games. “He understands that he's capable of going and getting the ball and getting it off the glass,” Bone said. “I think it's rolled right in to his scoring ability (because of offensive rebounds).”
Shelton, a shooter at 6'10, took 10 three-point shots against Washington last time out but didn't make a single one. “They were definitely within the offense,” Bone said. “He took what we consider great shots, he was pretty much open on a lot of them.”
Bone said that it's been hard to ask the unselfish-by-nature Lacy to be a scorer this year. “You're talking about a guy who's not selfish at all, and yet, we've asked him to provide points. It's hard for him to be that guy because he doesn't want to be that,” Bone said. “We hoped we'd have a lot more guys in the program that could score.”
Stanford's Johnny Dawkins
Dawkins has been impressed with how forward Dwight Powell's offensive smarts have led to him averaging 14.6 points and 3.6 assists per game. “He really makes us go because of his versatility,” Dawkins said. “Whether he's scoring or assisting, he continues to make us better. He's a willing passer.”
He also says that he has been impressed with Colorado since guard Spencer Dinwiddie was lost for the season due to injury. “I think they've done a great job,” Dawkins said. “(Askia) Booker's really stepped into that role. I look at his numbers, I think they've gone up in all these categories.”
UCLA's Steve Alford
Alford said he's been familiar with Washington coach Lorenzo Romar back to his playing days and his time spent coaching at Saint Louis, which was around the same time Alford began coaching at Iowa. Oddly enough, the Bruins and Huskies meet for the first and only time this season -- at the tail end of the year. “We've watched them a lot on tape but really paid attention to other teams,” Alford said. “They have very good guards and (Perris) Blackwell inside who can take over a game with his post presence.”
Expect an up-and-down game between UW and UCLA. “Any time I've been able to see Lorenzo's teams, they've been very good in transition,” Alford said.
Arizona State's Herb Sendek
Sendek has been around the block, having coached at ASU since 2006. He's with the majority in thinking the Pac-12 has never been deeper. “I think if you just take the measuring tape out from top to bottom, this is the best we've had since I've been here,” Sendek said.
Washington's Lorenzo Romar
Romar says freshman point guard Nigel Williams-Goss started the season strong and like all good freshman, eventually worked his way out of a slippage in production as teams scouted and learned how to defend him. “He came in from Day 1 and was pretty good for us. Again, as a freshman, you feel your way out, I always think there's a pattern,” Romar said. “That's kind of the way it's gone for him.”
Washington hosts UCLA on Thursday, and the Huskies will face Seattle product and Bruins guard Zach LaVine, a player once recruited by Romar. The UW coach guessed that LaVine had been coming to Washington camps since the sixth grade and during their recruitment of the talented swingman were surprised to learn he had always wanted to go to UCLA. “We didn't know that at first,” Romar said.
On LaVine's season: “I thought Zach was phenomenal early. I think his numbers kind of dipped a little bit. It's kind of a like a rebuilt engine, they come back a little more efficient.”
USC's Andy Enfield
In a 78-63 loss to Oregon on Saturday, USC recorded seven assists to 12 turnovers, and the most concerning part for Enfield was that six of the giveaways came in the final minutes of the game. “We only had six turnovers with nine minutes left in the game,” he said. “It is tough when you turn the ball over.”
Enfield says he has not seen a dip in effort during practices despite the Trojans having lost 10 straight games. “We enjoyed coaching this group of young men,” he said. “They're not giving up. As I tell our team, there are a lot of other good teams in our league … just because we play hard doesn't mean you're going to win.”
Having just come to the Pac-12 from Florida Gulf Coast University (and their own shocking 2013 NCAA Tournament run), Enfield said that he believes a team from a non-power conference can win a national championship. “Wichita State followed up a Final Four run with an undefeated season, so you have to say, 'yes,' ” Enfield said. “I think there's a lot of talent around the country. Schools have done a good job of evaluation and building a program.”
Cal's Mike Montgomery
On forward Richard Solomon's season: “He's been struggling late. There's a lot of big and strong centers in the league. He's matured in every aspect of his life, basketball and the classroom.”
Montgomery had an interesting take on what's helped the Pac-12 rebound to become a very deep league this season. “We had a period in there where it was pretty down,” he said. “There have been teams that have been able to take advantage of the transfer rule. Haven't had as many kids leave, one-and-done rule.”
Arizona's Sean Miller
Sean Miller was most complimentary of guard Nick Johnson, who could be the leader to win the Pac-12 Player of the Year honor. “Nick has been our guy," Miller said. "His talent is as much on defense as it is on offense. Inside a game, he plays multiple positions since Brandon (Ashley) has gotten hurt. That alone has shown how intelligent he is. He's a natural leader on our team.”
Having won the Pac-12 regular season title, the Wildcats realize that a visit to the Oregon schools this weak still holds a great deal of importance. Miller referenced the 2011 season, when the Wildcats fizzled late before building itself back up in the Pac-12 Tournament. “We respect Oregon State and Oregon a great deal, going on the road,” he said. “There are two more conference games.”
Miller said he thinks the Pac-12 has gotten proper recognition in 2013-14 thanks to the new television deal but “a few years ago, I don't think we did get the national recognition we deserved at the time.”
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