Jan. 28, 2003
Health-wise, we're in the best shape we've been in for a while. I still don't think that Luke (Walton) is better than 70 percent. Salim (Stoudamire) is conditioned to the point where he is back pretty close to 100 percent. Barring any problems today or tomorrow in practice, we should be in the best physical condition we've been in since before the season started.
I've been asked a lot if I'm surprised that these two teams (Stanford and California) are where they are (in the Pac-10 standings). Based on what everyone expected from Stanford with their losses that they were going to be a second division team, well I personally didn't feel that. I know Mike (Montgomery) and his staff and I know the number of good recruiting classes they've had up there. Certainly, you can't lose the players of (Casey) Jacobsen and (Curtis) Borchardt's abilities without being hurt. Certainly, they'd be better with them. But it's given guys like (Matt) Lottich and Rob Little a chance to become key players. Little has done an outstanding job inside for them. He is a big body, has great hands, and is doing a really nice job when you look at his shooting percentage. He's done a nice job. Lottich is a great shooter in the tradition of great shooters that they've had through the years.
For them (Stanford) to be in third is probably better than anyone anticipated. For Cal to be undefeated, is surprising, but for them to be in a challenging position would not have been surprising. Any time you return guys like Joe Shipp, who is as good a shooter as anyone in the country, and Brian Weathers, who is a tremendous athlete, and (Amit) Tamir, who really showed what he can do in a lot of games last year. They are all a year older and more experienced, and Tamir has become a much more consistent player now. I said from the get-go that Cal would be a team that you would have to take a strong look at in terms of a contender for the league title.
The Stanford-Arizona game has always been a big game. Is it any different this year?
No. They are 14-5 on the season and alone in third place. I don't think there is a loss in luster. Our guys know that will be a key game, and when that is over then Cal will be a big game. This is really the third week in a row that has been big time weeks for us with the L.A. schools in L.A., Arizona State and Kansas, and these two. It's a stretch of three weeks that we knew were going to be very challenging, and have been, and certainly will be.
Has there been a change in the team's mental makeup following the most recent success?
We had a great practice yesterday. It has to help your confidence level when you do what they did at Kansas. I also think that maybe we can start feeling that people are getting it. We can see marked improvement in practice with Andre (Iguodala) and Hassan (Adams) for example. At the beginning of the year, when you watch high-flying dunks and all of that, you think those are great players. But they don't see what we see in terms of what needs to be done defensively, the experience of what needs to be done within the team concept offensively and rebounding. There are a number of things that were visible yesterday...the confidence factor...the togetherness factor...the understanding of what we preach. It's not about individual (stat) lines, it's about what the score is at the end of the game. I think a game like that (Saturday at Kansas) helps provide the support behind what we've been saying all along.
Have you ever seen such different halves like Saturday at Kansas?
Basketball is a game of runs. I don't know if you expect them to be as noticeable as they were Saturday. The keys for us in the second half really was the aggressiveness on the glass, taking much better care of the ball, and attacking them. We did a much better job of attacking what they were doing to us defensively.
What makes Stanford go? What is the key to their success?
It's a combination of everything. There have been games where Lottich has been lights out with his perimeter shooting. (Julius) Barnes is a great athlete. He can penetrate, and he is a momentum-type player, if he starts hitting you better not let him get shots. But that's easier said than done because of his athleticism. I think the whole is greater than the individual parts. They mix well together.
The addition of (Justin) Davis is huge because he gives them interior scoring, shot blocking, and big-time rebounding ability. Justin is a big-time athlete.