We’ll have a longer scouting report this week, but wanted to pass along a portion of my interview today with Portland coach Eric Reveno.
As background, the Pilots are 6-3 with key victories against Seattle University, Oregon, UCLA and Minnesota. After starting 5-0, the Pilots were ranked No. 25 in the AP poll, which was the first time in 50 years for the WCC school.
Portland starts four seniors and a junior. The Pilots are also a very good three-point shooting team. They shoot .404 behind the arc. They average 18 three-point attempts per game and a third of their points comes from treys.
Also of note, Washington lost its opener 80-74 at Portland last season and the Pilots nearly won two years ago at Edmundson Pavilion before falling 67-63.
(What are the keys against Washington this Saturday?) “Taking care of the basketball for us against their halfcourt pressure is one of the key. That includes taking good shots. Washington over the years – and I think this year’s team is no different – is really good at disrupting offense and forcing you to put the ball down and make plays off the dribble or make plays in way that you might not be comfortable. And that’s not necessarily our strength. So executing offense and being willing to make plays off the dribble is one key.
“Defensively getting back in transition and building our defense and protecting the rim and taking away some high-percentage transition (attempts). In the games that we haven’t done well, that hasn’t been our strength.”
(As you prepare, do you focus more on last year’s win against UW in Portland or the near upset two years ago in Seattle?)
“In terms of preparation, they both are interesting to look at because Washington does things to disrupt you. So it’s interesting to look at some cases where they weren’t able to do that, especially to us. I think each game you look at it and learn from them strategically and Xs and Os wise to see what works. I remember we ran a backdoor play in the first game up there and it didn’t work. We got the backdoor, but the help-side defense of Washington is so good at getting over on those kinds of plays that you can’t expect to waltz in for a layup. It’s something that we worked on a bunch.
In a series like this, you sort of develop a little bit of understanding and feel for each other and make adjustments accordingly and try to get better.
“The second thing is a mindset. Last year’s game is interesting because I think we caught them – more the players I would imagine and not the coaches – I think the players, we didn’t necessarily get their best shot in all fairness. Our guys were geared up for it. Circled it on the calendar. We’re playing U-Dub to open the season. It was a big deal for us and I think for Washington that was a lesson learned not just that we are a good team, but you got to be ready all the time. So we caught them on a good night. I don’t think we’ll have that benefit this year.”
(Have you figured out your team this year? Are you guys the team that started 5-0 and was ranked in the top 25 or the team that’s lost three of its past four games?) “The real understanding is how easy within a one week period it can go from one to the other. It’s so fragile. It’s not like we’re that good. It’s a little bit scary because you’re playing so well and you’re doing so good, but all of a sudden you get away from a few core basics in terms of some offensive balance and some tough-minded defense and all of a sudden you don’t look too good. And not to take anything away from those teams, but you don’t look as good as you did. I’m hoping that was a lesson learned. We as a coaching staff definitely learned some things in what we need to do to be successful and reinforce some things. We learned that we can be both of those things and now our challenge through the season is to eliminate the lows and accentuate the ability to play at a high level.”
(Are you surprised that would happen considering you have a senior-laden team?) “It’s definitely disappointing. That’s one of the things I said openly at the start of the season. It will be interesting to see what it really means to be a veteran team. Are we willing to go on the road to beat a good Eastern Washington team? Does it mean that we can take on an interesting Seattle team at home and take on their center (Charles Garcia) and do some adjustments to him. We’ve done some good things, then all of a sudden you turn around and play like a very young team. And that was disappointing for us. The big lesson, the humbling thing is it’s the nature of college basketball. You’re never quite over that where you can forget who you are and what makes you good. Normally veteran teams don’t do that, but it happens and hopefully we can learn from it.
(How have you survived with the three-pointer as a staple of your offense for as long as you have?) “It’s really focusing on defense and really trying to having the kids buy into defense is going to dictate whether we win or not and offense will dictate by how much. I don’t want to be a team that has to shoot the ball from out to win. I think a game like Washington, because Washington is great at (defending) the three. You look at their stats, they’re one of the top in the country. So we can’t count on being as strong there. So we have to focus on running offense, executing and getting other good shots. And frankly our three-point shooting is best when we’re able to defend and get stops and get out and get shooters who are open. But if we’re not getting stops and we can’t get to transition, then we’re a lot more defendable like everybody is in the halfcout.”
(It seems both teams are at a crossroads.) “Yeah. I’m assuming both teams are going to really want it. And it’s a big game. We got their attention maybe. Or they’re at a point in the season where Pac-10 is around the corner. Whatever it is? Every team has got their own story. We’re trying to see if we can rekindle some of that ability to play at the highest level of college basketball. Those reasons might neutralize each other and then it’s about whose going to perform? Are the key players for each team, are they going to step up and do what they do best? Are the leaders going to do what they can do to help their team win? Are we going to execute what we need to execute in an adverse environment, under adverse conditions against very good players? I think it’s going to be more about discipline. Us being tough-minded enough to run a play when we got a really good athlete right up into us and making it really hard.”
(What can you exploit against Washington?) “Offensively trying to find the things we can execute against their pressure. That’s the chess game part of it. And part of it comes from my carryover going against Washington when I was an assistant at Stanford. We had good teams, but had a hard time running stuff. You go in and invariably Washington would take you out of stuff and it comes down to guys making plays off the dribble or reading the defense. So trying to prepare a team for that.”