20th Annual Fiesta Bowl Classic presented by Bank One
Pre-Tournament Press Conference Quotes
Dec. 27, 2004
Arizona Head Coach Lute Olson
It’s great to have the field that we have in here. It’s getting more and more difficult to get top caliber teams because it’s hard for teams to give up two homes games. Last year all four of the teams that were in here ended up in the NCAA tournament and the four that are in here now were all in the tournament last year. So even though some are not the big names, they certainly have had successful programs. Starting with us, but eastern Washington also Butler and Richmond have excellent basketball traditions, so I think it should be an entertaining tournament with some good competition.
For the first time in a number of years all of our guys made it back for practice last night. Some of them came back in a day early just to make sure. Mustafa (Shakur) ended up staying here. A year ago he had problems coming out of Philadelphia. It’s a good thing he came back, with all the problems they had in Philadelphia yesterday with the snow and the luggage. They were all ready to go. We had a great practice last night. Obviously they had all worked out a couple times during they’re four days off. We ended up having five of the guys stay here. Chris Rodgers stayed here, Mustafa, as well as Ivan (Radenovic, Daniel (Dillon), and Mohamed (Tangara). All of them had dinner up at our house with my family, although I was back in Pittsburgh, but they came up with Matt Brase. Out of the 14 guys, six of them were here the whole time.
As far as Eastern Washington is concerned, they run a lot of the stuff that Utah runs because of the coach’s involvement there. They’re a team that will play man-to-man and 1-3-1 zone. So hopefully we’ll see some of each. The more we face multiple defenses, the better off we feel we’ll be for league play. For those of you who saw some of the Marquette game, Marquette did try to go to a zone for a while and we hurt them badly in it. I think it’s just been a process that’s developed with us, zone offense always takes longer to get in. They have nice size on their team. Them have some excellent shooters. I expect it will be challenging, especially with Marc Axton. He creates a lot of problems at 6-7, 225lbs, he plays inside and outside and is a very good perimeter shooter. All of their big guys shoot the ball well in and out of the post area. That will test us I think in a number of ways.
Do you have any concerns about your team shooting the ball well?
I’ve never been concerned about the shooting. I’ve been concerned about our shot selection and our willingness to make the extra pass. We can see that in our practice situations now that we are moving the ball well. If we make the extra pass and get the open shot then I don’t think there’s any problem with our shooting.
As far as Salim Stoudamire goes, a game after disciplinary action he always plays very well. Have you seen an indication of that in practice?
He shot the ball very well last night. Chris (Rodgers) shot the ball very well last night. Salim’s a great shooter, the only thing that would keep him from hitting a great percentage is if he doesn’t take great shots. But I think he’s been very unselfish in the practice situations. The shots he hit against Manhattan, there were some that were long, but they were all open good looks. His only miss in the first half was slam dunk at the end of the half were we were in a last second shot situation. But he shot it well yesterday. He’s doing really a nice job out there with his leadership. He’s been very positive with the guys and I see no reason why that won’t continue.
Who will start Stoudamire or Rodgers?
I don’t know. I’ve always said I’m less concerned about who starts. I’m more concerned with who finishes. I really don’t know. We’ll see how things go in practice situations today. I’m comfortable with both of them.
What are you hoping you will get from the games in the Fiesta Bowl Classic as the team prepares for conference play?
As we tell the guys before every game, we can’t waste any games now in terms of our preparation. We just need to keep getting better and better. We need to make sure our defense stays solid and hopefully gets better as we go. We have two games here in preparation for Sunday (first Pac- 10 conference game), so that’s the way we’ll look at it. We want to play well in both games, as we always would, but when your getting closer to league you want to make sure that your fine tuning.
What specific areas would you like the team to improve in preparation for league play?
I’d like to see us continue defending the way we have been and continue to rebound, and then making sure that offensively were taking care of the ball and making the extra pass. We’ve had a few more turnovers than I’m comfortable with. Hopefully we can cut those down. Are goal will be to keep that under a dozen. I think at the pace we play, anything under 12 would be good. I’m not sure how many we’ve been forcing, but I think it’s well above that.
Are you worried at all about the team getting up to play a team that is 2-8?
No, at this point I don’t think our guys are concerned about how the other team plays as much as that we play well.
Because Eastern Washington is similar to Utah do you expect to see some zone?
It really doesn’t make any difference to us, because at this point I think we’re pretty well prepared for whatever. It’s just like Marquette. Marquette’s definitely a better man-to-man team. But yet they did try some zone. And Manhattan did also. The important thing is that we defend well and that we attack when we get the ball. The reason for the slow type game we had against Marquette probably had more to do with our defense than anything. They’re not a team that wants to slow it down. I think our defense was so tough that they had a hard time getting a shot off. A lot of times they were taking halfway desperations shots to beat the clock.
Did last year’s season of less stellar defense create a sense of urgency to defend well this year?
Anytime you have young guys your going to struggle some defensively, because young guys have no idea the kind of effort that you have to put in every time the opponent gets the ball. The other problem last year is we didn’t have the depth. If we got Channing (Frye) in foul trouble, we really didn’t have anywhere to go, and he was in foul trouble a lot. But this year, if Channing gets in foul trouble, certainly it hurts us some, but it doesn’t kill us like it did a year ago. Depth means a lot. If your going to put in the kind of effort we do defensively you have to have depth so you can get guys a blow now and then.
I feel very comfortable with Bret at anytime. He defends as well as anyone we have. And he doesn’t hurt us on offense because he’s very disciplined. He’s not going to take shots that aren’t good shots and he goes hard to the boards. Daniel is our best rebounding guard no question, and he has learned to take care of the ball no. He had one turnover in the Marquette game and that was suspect as to whether one of their guys got a piece of the pass. He’ll defend with anyone we have and rebound better than anyone we have. As long as he’s not throwing the ball all over the arena like he was early in the practice sessions, we feel very comfortable with him. And even though Daniel’s a freshman, he’s had a lot of international experience. I think international experience, when someone’s playing for their country, those are pressure packed games.
Eastern Washington Head Coach Mike Burns
“It is a great opportunity for our guys. The history of this building and the tradition that surrounds Arizona basketball and coach Lute Olson isn’t lost on me or on our kids so it is a great opportunity to be able to come and play here.”
You were an assistant last year at Washington State, what did you do to slow down Arizona?
“They do things to try and create tempo. So last year in Pullman, we were able to do things to slow the tempo. In terms of it being a game of possessions, it would definitely favor us, the less number of possessions that were had tomorrow during the game.”
What is the most impressive part of Marc Axton’s game?
“What is most impressive to me about Marc is his character. I was talking with our trainer yesterday and in four years the kid hasn’t missed a practice. You can look a our press release and see how many different lineups and injuries and all the stuff that we have been through, and then you see Marc and he has been as solid as a piece of granite. He has a groin injury that is bugging him right now and he won’t sit out a practice. He leads this team by example. The character he uses to set forth that example is without question the most impressive thing about him. That and the fact that he can go and put up 33 points on a team like Gonzaga.”
Was most of his work against Gonzaga from the outside?
“Yes. I think he made seven three’s, but he also has an ability to score inside. If there is anything that has been unfair to Marc this year it is that we have placed a large burden on his shoulders. In assuming that responsibility he has had to take more outside shots than he likes.”
What are your thoughts on Arizona?
“I think they are a potential juggernaut any way you want to look at it. They have the weapons on the perimeter with Salim Stoudamire, Mustafa Shakur, Hassan Adams and Chris Rodgers. Those kids can all get it going in different ways very quickly. Then that frontcourt is as good of a frontcourt as we have seen this year and we saw a pretty good one about a week ago (Gonzaga). With Channing Frye and Isaiah Fox and Ivan Radenovic, they combine size, strength and skill that we don’t often see on our schedule.”
What are your thoughts on this opportunity being a first year head coach?
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity that has been given to me. Again, it’s not lost on me or our team the responsibility we have to the previous teams that have had success at Eastern Washington in terms of upholding a certain standard of play. We talk about that frequently. We have a lot of new people in the program this year and a lot of young people who are just starting to understand what that means. It’s been a great opportunity for me and one that I look forward to over the coming years.”
How to you plan to defend Arizona?
“We are going to play some zone against Arizona. We are going to play some man. We’ll have to try and mix it up. I don’t think you can go for 40 minutes doing the same things against a team of that caliber and let them get into a rhythm because when they get into a rhythm they score in bunches. We are going to start the game man-to-man and see where that takes us.”
What was your reaction to being welcomed to Tucson at the airport with the mariachi band and the Fiesta Bowl committee?
“I think it was similar to that of our teams. I was looking around thinking ?'who’s this for?’ and then they informed us that it was for us. It was nice. Again, we’re not accustomed to that sort of fanfare when we get off a plane and so it was a nice touch. I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in many different tournaments over the years and this one is really impressive in terms of how they take care of the teams and what they do to make sure your stay is a nice one. The Fiesta Bowl people and the University of Arizona have done a tremendous job with this tournament.
Coach Winston Brooks played against Arizona in the 2003 NCAA tournament while playing with Gonzaga. How will his experience help your players?
“I think he can grab kids individually and tell them what type of intensity and athleticism they are going to encounter out there tomorrow because he played against them in one of the greatest NCAA Tournament games of all time. I think he will be able to share those types of things with our players.”
Do you feel overshadowed in the state of Washington with teams like Gonzaga, Washington, and Washington State getting more and more attention?
“No, not at all. The local media has been very good to us up there. Our kids understand that we’ll get attention come late February to get back to the NCAA tournament. This time of year is also difficult at EWU because we play a lot of road games and we have to play four or five ?'guarantee’ games every year. We are in a position in terms of how we construct our schedule that is challenging. We have to look at the bigger picture a lot of times. That bigger picture is preparing ourselves for January and February and for our conference play.”
How do you keep your players from getting down against the tough schedule?
“It’s tough because at the same time you have to keep your perspective, you have to get better. You have to demand things from yourself, your staff and your team and that’s a fine line that you walk. I think winning and losing are habit forming and we need to get back in the habit of winning. I would love that to start tomorrow night here. We are beyond moral victories at this point and we need to come out and play good, solid basketball and start winning some games.
Butler Head Coach Todd Lickliter
What are your thoughts on playing in the tournament?
We miss the snow a great deal. We left a couple feet of snow. That’s always a difficult thing. I’ve not obviously been a part of all the institutional tournaments in the nation, so to compare would probably be somewhat irresponsible. But I just can’t imagine there being a better one. From the host, to the structure of the tournament, to the facilities, everything that goes on, it’s an atmosphere you want your players involved with. Your concern is will they focus. I thought the Top of the World Classic in (Fairbanks) Alaska was terrific. It’s a very well-run tournament, and the nice thing was, our guys just stayed in their rooms until game time. It was cold and kind of dark, so we didn’t worry about focus there too much. In Tucson we might have to have a curfew and few other things. I think our guys know how competitive it is and what a great challenge these teams present no matter who you play. I think they’re looking forward to the opportunity to be here.
We went to Fairbanks a few years ago. We didn’t go anywhere last year. We came here the year Arizona went to the final game (2000-01). What a nice team that was, just a terrific team. We played a (Richmond coach Jerry) Wainright coached team that year and played in this tournament and went to the second round of the NCAA, so we’re trying to see if that could be the key. Of course we didn’t win either one of them. But we played well. We played Coach Wainright’s team in a home and home series. Then we got the great reward, after beating Wake Forest, of getting to play Arizona again in the second round. I remember one of our coaches telling Jason Gardner, who went to the same high school as I did, to go easy on us. Jason said, ?'we’ve played you and watched you’. So we had no chance of sneaking up on that team. What a terrific team that was.
Were your there during the same time as Former UA assistant Jay John?
The very first time when I was an assistant Jay was there, and then when I came back, he had been gone maybe two years, but I know Jay quite well.
Since you and Thad Motta have raised the bar at Butler, was last year’s 16-14 record considered a real down year?
I didn’t go out of the house much in the off-season. But it wasn’t just Thad and I, Barry Collier laid the groundwork, he was terrific. I think Thad would tell you the same thing. Barry had a very sound system and Thad and I kind of each put out signature on it, I hope in a positive way. I think that on our level, a real key to being successful is retaining players, having them for four, or five years if they red-shirt.
When you lose seven seniors you don’t want it to drop off. You have this tradition, and you know what it’s like to play at a high level. But in reality, I thought our guys showed a lot of character last year, showed a lot of improvement. I was encouraged by the way they maintained. It’s tough. It’s a competitive arena.
Do you get good leadership from your seniors?
I think we get good leadership from our seniors. A couple things I think are misnomers. That because you’re a senior you’re a leader, or that you have to be a senior to be a leader. Our juniors were all on the Sweet Sixteen team and then they all experiences last year when it was pretty tough. I think if you asked them which they liked they’d know, and they’re going to try to do everything they can to be that kind of team.