PHOENIX – Oregon head coach Dana Altman and a couple of Ducks’ players met with the media Friday afternoon at University of Phoenix Stadium to discuss their team and game Saturday in the Final Four versus North Carolina.
Here is what Altman and the players had to say:
COACH ALTMAN: First of all, this is the kind of press conference I like. But the guys worked out good yesterday. And it was a very nice setup for the facility. I think it's going to work out pretty good. Hopefully we'll shoot it well. Didn't seem to bother them too much yesterday. So, I like the facility. Everyone here in Phoenix has been great to us. So it's been pretty smooth.
Q. The understatement of the year the other day when you said 1939 was a long time ago. How have you done and how has the team -- you sort of just talked about it a little just now -- but getting them from that moment of everything that they have done this year surprised a lot of people. And now here you are on this big stage for the first time in 78 years. How do you bring that to be in the moment, their consciousness, if you will?
COACH ALTMAN: I think the guys have done a pretty good job. It is difficult with all the media attention and the hype that surrounds the Final Four. It's hard to keep them focused and keep them thinking about the ballgame. But they've done a great job in our film sessions. Yesterday in practice, they were pretty focused after they got loosened up.
So I think the team is really looking forward to this. As all players, they've dreamed about this for a long time. And now it's here and our job as coaches is try to keep them focused and try to get them ready to play their best. I think we're in that mode.
Like you said, I like the way we attack the film sessions. I like the way we attacked practice yesterday. I hope we go out and have a sharp shooting workout here that we're going to do for 50 minutes. Our open practice is basically going to be our game-day shootaround. So hopefully the guys will be sharp during that and get ready to play tomorrow.
Q. I know you were asked about this yesterday but the situation three years ago with Austin, Artis and Dotson, I'm just wondering if you learned anything about that as a coach and looking back if you -- not looking back, but if you were presented with a similar situation now, how you would handle it?
COACH ALTMAN: Well, if something like that were to arise again, everything that I did in that situation was with the advice of the university. I didn't make any decisions. The university was involved in everything. So I think if we were ever in the situation again, I look to my athletic director and the people above me to make any decisions.
Q. I talked with Larry Riley earlier this week. Do you remember the day you went into his office in 1980 and said you wanted to be a basketball coach and he told you you were nuts?
COACH ALTMAN: Yeah, I do. Coach was great to me for the two years I played for him. And I had thoughts of going to law school and doing some different things. But I decided I wanted to go get a master's degree and get a GA's job. And he sent me to work for his twin brother in Colorado.
So Larry and Mike Riley have been great to me for a long time. And I got an opportunity to spend some time with them last night, been great mentors for a long, long time.
Q. Had you actually progressed enough to do the LSAT?
COACH ALTMAN: Yeah, I took the test. I took the test. Didn't do great, didn't do bad. I could have got into a few places.
Q. No regrets that you didn't become a lawyer?
COACH ALTMAN: No, it's worked out all right. I think anytime your hobby is your job, you're pretty fortunate. And I always enjoyed playing and following basketball. So when your hobby's your job, you're pretty lucky.
Q. As you guys headed into the postseason, you used the mantra swing away. And I've seen you use that a lot in your team huddles. Tell me what that means to you and has that been a recipe -- I guess that means playing loose -- but has that been a recipe to your success so far in the postseason?
COACH ALTMAN: We've talked about swinging away, being aggressive throughout the season. It's not just in the postseason. It's something that players for 28 years have heard. We want our guys to loosen up, and so many of them take it offensively -- they want me to swing away, take shots. But defensively, on the boards, we just want them to play hard, play aggressive, try to free them up a little bit and go play the way they've practiced. So it's something that we've talked about always.
Q. Do you feel that they've played loose here in these last four games and the last six of the season? Would you attribute that to why you guys are here?
COACH ALTMAN: I thought we have, the last couple of games, there's been times we've been a little tight. Expectations have been pretty high for this ball club. So there have been times we've played a little tight. But for the most part I think our guys have been aggressive and loose and been in attack mode. So for the most part been pretty pleased. But there have been a few games this year where the pressure of the rankings and the expectations, I think it slowed us down at times.
Q. What do you think the loss to Arizona in that Pac-12 championship game, what do you think it spurred the team on in the postseason? Some of the guys said it raised their IQ, what they had to do without Chris around. How do you think that game impacted the rest of the way?
COACH ALTMAN: I think in that regard it probably did help us a little bit in relationship to Chris, just because Arizona got to the basket on us. They got a lot of points in the paint that night and got some easy shots that we typically don't give up. But I think that losing a ballgame maybe refocuses you sometimes. But in this particular case, I think it just let us know that we were going to have to play a little differently without Chris, and we were able to make a few adjustments.
But the big adjustment is Jordan Bell has played so well that he's stepped it up. And Kavell has been really solid for us, given some of those minutes that Chris left open.
Q. North Carolina's shot 59 free throws over the last two games. What do you plan to do to limit them to getting to the free-throw line?
COACH ALTMAN: Well, they do a great job on the glass, which gets them second opportunities. They throw the ball inside a lot, which anytime you get the ball going to the basket either by drives or posting it, your percentage of foul attempts usually goes up, free throw attempts goes up. So our job is going to be, first of all, to try to keep them off the boards and not foul on any of those second opportunities.
Second of all, we've got to limit their touches in the paint as much as we can, which is a very difficult task since they run so many things to get the ball inside to Meeks and Hicks and Bradley. So we're going to have to do a tremendous job defensively to try to keep the ball out of there a little bit.
Q. Do you remember the Eastern New Mexico fight song?
COACH ALTMAN: No chance. (Laughter).
Q. What was your time like there in Portales?
COACH ALTMAN: I enjoyed my two years there. It was a different part of the country for me. I was from Nebraska, had basically spent all of my previous 20 years in Nebraska. So it was a different experience for me. And met a lot of good friends that I still stay in touch with today. So it was a good two years.
Q. Payton has had kind of a rough postseason statistically at least. Can you evaluate his play and also what went into the decision to start him over Casey?
COACH ALTMAN: It's not an exact science. He and Casey have played a lot of minutes together. And Casey's minutes are down a couple from a year ago, but about the same. But it wasn't like, well, this is the direction we're going to go. It's just something I felt was better for the team at that time.
And I like Casey coming off the bench. He's been able to give us offensively a shot here or there that's helped us off the bench and stabilize some things if they're not going smoothly. So it's worked out okay. As far as Payton, he puts a lot of pressure on himself to score. I want to free him up there a little bit and just take open shots. But I think defensively he's done a good job. He's done a good job on the boards. Everybody seems to equate struggling with offense. And he's done a good job in the other areas.
Q. I wanted to ask you about your Canadian pipeline. I think you like this pipeline a lot. Can you talk about what it's meant for Oregon to get these players? And do they bring a different something to the game that maybe some of the American players don't? Or we've seen European players bring something different. Do the Canadian players bring something different?
COACH ALTMAN: Well, we've been very fortunate. Devoe Joseph and Olu Ashaolu started it our second year at Oregon. Jason Calliste came in, Richard, and now we've got three young men, so we have seven young men that have played for us from Canada.
Dillon and Dylan and Chris have made a major impact. I think the one characteristic is they've all been very easy to work with on and off the floor. And all of them really excited about the opportunity. And sometimes maybe some players in the states take it for granted, but they seem to be really excited about the opportunity.
And they all love ball. All seven of them that we've been fortunate enough to work with really love the game. In the gym all the time, working on their game. So, like I said, they've been fun to work with. We've signed another young man from Toronto. So we're looking for him to make an impact for us next year.
Q. What type of talent pool do you think is up in Canada? And do you think sometimes people sort of ignore it to their detriment?
COACH ALTMAN: I don't think they're ignoring it anymore. I think Canada is really starting to get a lot more recruiting action. We're running into a lot more schools up there than we previously have. So because of the success that a number of the young men from Canada have had, I think it's opened up a lot of doors for Canadian players.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by student-athletes from Oregon.
Q. It's been a long time since a Pac-12 team has made it to the Final Four. What does it mean for your program that you guys were the ones that are able to break through and get to this next level? And what does it say about the conference as a whole.
JORDAN BELL: I think it's definitely a step in the right direction for the conference. I think people have been overlooking us since we haven't made the Final Four since 2008. So I think us making it is definitely shining some light on the conference as a whole.
COACH ALTMAN: It has been a dry spell for our conference. I think Arizona and some other teams have been good enough to get there, but you need to be fortunate. A 3 goes in against Michigan and we're not sitting here. So you have to have a little luck. You have to be fortunate.
But it is good for our conference that we're here. It's been 2008 since we've had anybody in the Final Four, but it's been '97 since we had anybody win it. So our challenge was not only to get here, but it's been 20 years since our league has won it. And so we've got a ways to go yet.
Q. For Dana and Dylan Ennis, what about this team that you've heard them say, seen them do, has shown you that y'all are ready to not just settle for being here?
DYLAN ENNIS: We're not selling for being here because we're hungry for more. We want to win this national title. We put our shoes on in the summertime and looked around, we didn't say, you know, we want to be second, third or fourth-best in the country. We wanted to be the national champions.
But we haven't talked about it all year. They've just done it by action. Coach said just keep locking in every practice, every game. The games that we played in the preseason are just as important as games we play now. But he just kept us focused the whole entire time. And we don't want to just have a good three days. We want to have a lifetime of memories. And hopefully we could say we were the best team in the country when it's all said and done.
COACH ALTMAN: I don't think there's anything they've said, but I haven't noticed any decline in their attention to detail in the film sessions. I thought after we got loosened up yesterday in practice, practice was fairly sharp.
I think this group won't be satisfied with just making it here. I haven't had any indication there hasn't been a let-down in any regard. Practices back in Eugene before we got on the plane were sharp. I think it was good that there was nobody on campus. We were in spring break so nobody could tell them what a good job they did because we've still got two games to go.
Q. What is it about the way Tyler has played in the postseason that's allowed him to carry over that production from week-to-week? Some guys might have a good weekend, they're down the next. But what is it about Tyler that he stayed so hot?
COACH ALTMAN: I think the first thing is his entire game has picked up. I think it goes back to the Arizona State game, our first game in the conference tournament, he got nine rebounds and really defensively was great in the Cal game. So I think he's playing the entire game, which has just kept him involved throughout the ballgame, and he's looking for opportunities.
His teammates are finding him. Our ball movement's been pretty good. And he's on the receiving end of some good passes. And he's knocked down shots. But I think the biggest thing is he's just got involved in the entire game. And it's kept him focused. It's kept him intact throughout the 35 minutes, 40 minutes he's playing.
Q. Jordan, North Carolina is a very strong rebounding team. What do you see on film particularly from Kennedy Meeks? And do you look forward to a challenge with a matchup like that?
JORDAN BELL: He's a good post player, very big. He's going to be very tough as far as keeping him off the boards and stopping them as a whole. But I think it's going to come down to the whole team, rebounding. I don't think anybody on our team is going to just dedicate that one responsibility to just me. So I think everybody is going to have to crack down on their bigs and really just get in there, help out with the rebounding.
Q. Coach, this is your 28th year in Division I coaching. What's it like to now finally get to the Final Four?
COACH ALTMAN: It's been a long time coming. (Laughter). No, I -- coaches, players, this is what, if you get into Division I basketball, what you think about. And been coming to Final Fours all these years. And the joke was always, wish I could bring my team one of these times with me.
And so it's good to finally have the guys with me to a Final Four, and I know they're looking forward to it and I'm looking forward to it. Our staff, our entire staff, this is our first experience, and so we're all looking forward to it. It's been a great experience, and we hope to carry it through until Monday.
Q. Safe to say you want to try to speed up this game and get North Carolina in transition?
COACH ALTMAN: I'm not sure what tempo the game will take. I think part of it is going to be we won't be able to run unless we're able to get the defensive rebounds. I think that's going to be a big key. We don't want it going totally up and down because they're a very good transition team. And so we've got to get our defense back and put it together.
And I think those are the two big keys that will dictate the tempo of the game. If we're able to rebound with them and if we can get our defense set and get it back, then, I think then we'll be able to maybe decide the tempo. But if they're offensive rebounding it and putting it back and we can't get their transition stopped, then they'll dictate everything and we're in tough shape.
Q. You were in Maui with North Carolina and you guys weren't well. Dillon was hurt. What did you think of them? They were playing great. And when you're in an environment like that, do you socialize with the other teams, do you try to keep away from -- how did that go? Did you spend much time around them?
COACH ALTMAN: Well, when you lose that first game in Maui, then you're playing at 9:00 the next morning. So we didn't have much time to socialize with anybody. They were in the other bracket, so they were playing at night and we were playing in the morning. Didn't see much of the other teams.
But as far as them as a team, they're big, they're talented. They pretty much dominated that tournament. We weren't at our best. We weren't full strength then. But hopefully we'll bounce back and have an opportunity to show what we can do tomorrow. But we were looking forward to trying to get into that winners' bracket and have an opportunity to play them and Wisconsin was there also. But we didn't get that done.