Below are selected quotes from head coach Ben Braun from his weekly press conference. The Bears host Arizona Thursday and Arizona State Saturday. Both games tip-off at 7 p.m. from Haas Pavilion.
On his impressions of Arizona:
They've played such a tremendous schedule and they've been through all kinds of games. They're a tough team. They've shown throughout the season that they're a tough team to play against. I think (Jason) Gardner has really come back this year. He's had a tremendous year. He's just one of the elite players in the country, not just the conference. He's played so well for them. They've gotten some great performances from some freshmen, (Salim) Stoudamire, (Will) Bynum and (Channing) Frye. Of course, Rick Anderson coming back has been a tremendous addition for them. And Luke Walton has just been a really steady player. In many ways, he's been their most valuable player. I think when you can see when he's in the lineup how well they play. He's kind of a glue for them. He's a guy that just makes things happen for his team on both ends of the floor. He passes, he defends, he shoots. He's done it all for them.
I think their freshmen have been valuable to their team. They haven't been the difference. I think when it comes to experience, I think they look to Walton and Gardner. Anderson is an older player. Those are the guys, I think, that really stepped up to make leadership. Those players, when they've gotten in the flow of the game, have been awfully good. Is there something we can do? I don't know specifically. They're probably not going to be as consistent as those other guys.
I think they've got pretty good depth. They're bringing some pretty good players off the bench. I do think that Gardner has stepped up. He's much improved over a year ago in many respects. Walton has stepped up his game. Anderson gives them a lot of ability and experience. He's a poise player.
On Arizona forward Luke Walton:
I think he's a guy that if you make a concerted effort to stop him, he'll find people. He's an excellent passer. And if you play him straight up, he's good enough to beat you. He's a difficult match-up for anybody. Do you put a guard or do you put a post guy on him? That's another question that you have to ask yourself. He seems to find ways to hurt you on the floor.
On Arizona guard Jason Gardner:
Obviously, his scoring is up. He's shooting the ball confidently. He's scoring off the dribble, he's scoring off transition. He's scoring in their half-court. He's scoring in late-game situations. He's not afraid to take the big shot. He's going to knock down shots. He's a legitimate go-to guy. I think he's playing as well as any point guard we've seen.
On the win at USC last Thursday:
It was a character win. When you play another team that's playing at the top of their game - and USC was playing at the top of their game - for our team not to get discouraged, not to give in, that was what I was impressed with. Our team never backed down. We didn't concede. When you're playing ranked opponents, it's important. The outcome will always take care of itself. But you have to compete.
On the three-point shooting difficulties at UCLA after making 15 three-pointers at USC:
When your shot's not falling, obviously you don't want to lose confidence. You don't want to stop looking for your shot. I think at the same time, you can't be quick to settle. That was what was a concern. I think we had some opportunities to get to the foul line, to really test their (UCLA's) defense, and I think we strayed a little bit from that. It's fine when you're knocking down your shots. To our players' credit, I went back to the tape and we did have some pretty good looks. I would have preferred those looks to come after some inside-outside touches. I thought we did that early against UCLA. We established an inside presence very early in the game and we went away from that. It's really a lot easier for your team when you go inside out. If we can get back to that, it will help us a lot. We don't want to stop shooting threes.
On the importance of this stretch of games and the possibility of winning a Pac-10 title:
I think our goal is always to challenge for a championship. That's a goal that our team is very conscience of. Nobody is going to give you anything. You've got to go out and take wins. The teams that do that will reward themselves with the championship. Somebody in this league will be standing at the end. That's going to be quite an accomplishment. The important step is our players believe we can compete. It doesn't matter where the polls are, it's about your team believing you belong. Those are the characteristics you look for. I saw that this weekend. This is a heckuva league. There's going to be an inherent advantage for every team from our league that goes to the tournament because having played in the Pac-10 will be a tremendous boost. I think there are a number of teams that are capable of challenging for the title.
On A.J. Diggs
I think he's playing well. I think his defensive pressure has been good. Like Shantay, I think he's making strides while leading the team. That's very important. A.J.'s a good shooter. He may not have the range Shantay has, but he's a pretty good shooter. I like when teams give him a little look. He'll knock it down. He's got confidence and he's worked hard on his shooting and he's a pretty good shooter. A.J.'s an aggressive guy. When we encourage him to be aggressive, he's either going to take it to the glass or pull up. He seems to do a good job making pretty good decisions. I like our team when our point guards are aggressive. When our point guards are aggressive, I think we're a better team. And that can mean a lot of things - on the pass, on the dribble, on the shot, on defense. There are so many ways for a point guard to get in gear. A.J. and Shantay have done that.