UA seeks revenge at Wash. schools
Halfway through the Pac-10 season, how confident are you in where the team stands?
I feel very good. First of all, we're top of the Pac-10 standings and have an edge over Stanford in the fact that we did beat them. Regarding the fact that we lost Richard Jefferson to injury and hasn't been with us since the Stanford game, we've played well and won some key games without him. We got three out of four in the two tough road trips in the tough California schools. The bottom line is we're 8-1 and control our own destiny. As long as we win the rest of our games, we'll be outright Pac-10 champions.
You've played the difficult games on the road, how does that help you when you turn the corner towards the second half of the Pac-10 season?
It helps a lot because they're out of the way, but on the other hand, it's scary because the Washington schools and Oregon schools are tough. If you go in there thinking it will be an easy game, they'll sneak up and beat you and knock you off and you can't afford a loss. It's important that we stay focused and not get too happy that we have already played at the California schools. We have to take care of the Washington and Oregon schools.
The team struggled against the Washington schools at home last month. Are you guys going up there for revenge and to show them you are a better team than that?
There's a lot of revenge at stake, especially with Washington State and that whole headband fiasco and all the other distractions there. We definitely want to show them we're a better team than that. As for Washington, the largest lead we had on them for the whole game was eight points, and that was at the end of the game. So against both teams, when we played them, we didn't play our best and we want to go out and prove we're better than that.
Is playing Washington at Key Arena, home of the NBA's Supersonics, easier than Hec Edmundson Pavilion, where everybody is on top of you?
I don't know if it's easier because at an NBA arena, there's more room behind the basket so the depth perception makes it difficult sometimes. It's a little harder to shoot. With Washington, they've had the opportunity to play there and practice there, while we're only going to have a shoot-around. It's important for us to hit our shots and not worry about depth perception and take care of business on the floor.
What player or players have surprised you over the course of the Pac-10 season?
Probably Luke Walton, he's done a great job and stepped in for Richard Jefferson. Obviously, Loren's been great, but I don't think there's any one guy who's surprised me because Gilbert and Jason are always playing well. The guy who has really stepped in and picked up the slack has been Luke Walton, even Coach Olson commented after the Oregon State game that our best defender was Luke Walton. He's done a really good job.
Have you been following and keeping an eye on other teams around the country?
I follow all the time, I watch all the games. I enjoy watching them and tapes for my own benefit. There are a lot of good teams out there. Obviously, Cincinnati's good, and Connecticut struggled against Michigan State this weekend. Michigan State is good, they run a lot of good stuff. A sleeper team nobody will want to face, though, is Tulsa. They're pretty good, have a couple of good players and are well-coached.
Who is the No. 1 team in the country, in your opinion?
No. 1 in the country, without including us at all, I would have to say the best team I've seen on tape and in person is Michigan State. They've got a lot of good players, are well coached and have a lot of experience. They've been to the Final Four before and know how to get back there."