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March 16, 2016

Nate Oats

Lamonte Bearden

Willie Conner

Blake Hamilton

Providence, Rhode Island

Q. Lamonte, I don't know if you guys are aware, but the last time there was a 14 seed here for the NCAAs, that was Ohio and they beat Georgetown. I wonder what you guys think it will take to knock off Miami tomorrow.
LAMONTE BEARDEN: I think it will take 40 minutes of defense. I feel like we need to get through ball screens and we should be fine.

Q. What are your feelings as you head inside the Dunkin' Donuts Center and look at the floor, and what are your emotions right now?
WILLIE CONNER: I think we're all just excited, and of course we're happy to be here, but at the same time, we want to lock in and key in on what got us to this point now.

BLAKE HAMILTON: You know, kind of like Willie said, it's exciting. You want to take in every moment, but we have to have a business approach about everything, and we have something to prove tomorrow.

LAMONTE BEARDEN: They said everything.

Q. Give me an idea, I know the Miami players said they expect this to be a very up-tempo game. Is that something that you guys are willing to play?
BLAKE HAMILTON: Yeah, I think that's what we -- that's how we want to play. We want to play up tempo. We want to create turnovers. We want to play at a fast pace. We feel like we're better when we're in transition, and if it's an up-tempo game, I really like our chances.

Q. Blake, how important is Lamonte to what you just were talking about, that up-tempo game, especially against them?
BLAKE HAMILTON: Lamonte is a big part. I feel like Lamonte with the ball, he's one of the fastest guards in the country getting down the court. He's a big part of getting us out there on the break, and Willie, as well, and just the whole team. I feel like we, as a team, we like to play -- that's how our roster is, to play up tempo. So I feel like we'll be good playing at an up-tempo speed.

Q. Lamonte, obviously after last season you saw some of your teammates transfer, you obviously decided to stay. Maybe first did Coach Oats say anything specific about you, about what it would be like if you stayed with him? And secondly, how good does it feel to be here now heading into tomorrow's game knowing you decided to stay here and were able to bring your team back here?
LAMONTE BEARDEN: I think my decision was real good. I knew that we'd get a few new pieces in, good pieces like Willie Conner and Blake Hamilton, so I did decide to stay and build the team. It's really exciting this year.

Q. Lamonte, you had kind of a rough game against West Virginia and that's a game you guys came close to winning. Do you feel like you have a little unfinished business here?
LAMONTE BEARDEN: Most definitely. Last time we were here, I did miss a few easy shots that I should have made. We're going to get after it tomorrow for 40 minutes, like we said.

Q. Blake, Coach has been through so much this year with his family. I wonder as players, as a group, how you guys have responded to what he's gone through off the court and how you guys maybe have helped him through some of those tough times?
BLAKE HAMILTON: You know, I think it made us tougher as a team. We kind of feed off the energy of Coach Oats. And Coach Oats, he's a tough guy. For him to still even be coaching us after everything he's gone through with his family, it just shows how much of a great guy he is. We kind of strive to play for his family and play for Coach Oats after all the stuff he's been through.

Q. There was talk at the start of the week that Bowling Green runs somewhat similar. After looking at it, do you see some similarities in their schemes with Bowling Green, or given their athletes, it's just a totally different animal and it's apples and oranges?
WILLIE CONNER: Yeah, Bowling Green, well, the coach for Bowling Green played for Larranaga for a little bit. We kind of figured out what they're going to do. Bowling Green likes to get up and down, as well, and I think we handled that at our place and their place pretty much, pretty good. So I feel confident about going in tomorrow and playing against Miami.

Q. Blake and Willie, there's only a few guys really left on this team who really played in last year's NCAA Tournament, so have guys like Lamonte or Jarryn given you any advice what it's like to play on this stage?
BLAKE HAMILTON: Yeah, those guys just let us know just like enjoy the moment. We've got to enjoy the moment, but at the end of the day we've got to come out there and play like it's a regular game. You can't put too much pressure on yourself, and you've just got to go out there, like Lamonte said, and play 40 minutes of UB basketball.

WILLIE CONNER: Like Blake said, we've just got to play 40 minutes, but the other guys that was here last year told us just take it in, enjoy it, have fun. That's our main thing. We want to go out there and have fun and play as hard as we can and hopefully come out on top.

Q. Kind of piggyback being off of that question, has Julius Hodge, Donyell Marshall, two guys who made deep runs in the tournament in their playing days, have they talked to you at all about what to expect in this game?
LAMONTE BEARDEN: They told us to expect the worst. Honestly sometimes you can get -- teams can go on a run and the game can get away from you, but just keep your head most importantly and keep playing for 40 minutes.

Q. Willie and Blake, with the shot from distance, the three-pointer, it's going to be so important tomorrow. How do you feel about kind of sticking with it, and how important is it tomorrow for you guys, especially if it doesn't fall early?
WILLIE CONNER: I think it's going to be kind of important for us tomorrow to make a lot of shots, especially for me on the arc because once we get going and open up driving gaps for Blake, Lamonte, Skeete, guys like that, if we miss a few, that's not going to stop us from shooting. We're going to stay with it and hopefully we'll get a few to fall like we did in the MAC tournament.

NATE OATS: Well, we're excited to be here. We had a good week last week. Our guys are playing well, something we talked about since the beginning of the year. We came to the tournament last year, had a great time. I thought we gave West Virginia a run for their money. We talked about it afterwards with a lot of returning guys getting back here this year, and then we had a little change-over in our staff, a little change-over in player personnel. But I was here last year, three of the players in the rotation, Lamonte Bearden, Jarryn Skeete, Rodell Wigginton played here last year, and we made it a goal. And then we're obviously getting a lot of contributions from some of our new guys. But it's a good time to be playing well.

Q. I wonder what this year has been like for you with so many challenges off the floor and so much success on the floor and trying to deal with those two things together.
NATE OATS: You know what, the off-the-court stuff has been pretty well documented. You've kind of got to compartmentalize stuff, come to the office, deal with it. It's hard because you've always got to have your phone on you in case an emergency comes up. But I've had great help from the staff with a lot of the stuff. I've had really good help at home.

My mother-in-law was able to help out with my wife's stuff. I've gotten a lot of support. We hired a nanny. She's great with the kids, so I kind of had help with my wife and my kids, with the team so I kind of learned to not do everything yourself. It's impossible with everything we went through this year. So with all the help, and then the players all kind of formed a family. You've got your basketball family, they all kind of all bought into the whole deal, and I think they kind of played for each other. Even when Nikola's mother passed away, he was in Serbia for a few weeks but rallied around him for a few weeks. Rallied around Jim Whitesell, my associate coach, he had a younger brother pass away in December.

So we've kind of dealt with some stuff that's a lot bigger than winning and losing a basketball game. But at the same time, you know, playing together, playing hard as a team, which contributes to winning, I think that helped almost bring us together a little bit in some of those areas. Yeah, it was a little bit different, but you're talking about Hurley. Like E.C., my kid, he's been texting me through the whole thing, too. He's a great kid. He's going to come to the game tomorrow night. I know you cover them. I've read some of your stories on E.C., so it's good to see you.

Q. They say the players oftentimes will take on the personality of their head coach. The players seem loose. You seem like you're loose. How important is that as the game approaches just to kind of just stay that way?
NATE OATS: I think with a game like this, we're not predicted to win, we're definitely underdogs. If you come into a game like this tight, that doesn't help anything. Kind of playing with house money right now, you know. Like the way you pull an upset off is you come in loose, you hit a lot of shots. You play defense. We're going to play hard. There's no point in stressing about anything else. We're going to give it our best effort. If we hit some shots like we did in the MAC tournament, we're going to have a shot at it. I think it's easier to shoot when you're a little bit looser than it is when you're a lot more tight. Hopefully Miami is the one that gets a little tight. They're supposed to win. If you guys didn't tell them that, let them know they're supposed to win. They have to make every shot. We don't have to make every shot. We'll play a little looser than them hopefully.

Q. I've heard you talk about the comparison to BG. Besides that, what do you see --
NATE OATS: That was the -- we didn't know who we were going to get, and right off the bat -- I've known Coach Huger at BG. Shoot, I came from Romulus out to Buffalo. There's two Romulus players that actually played for Larranaga, and my assistant played with them. So I kind of knew the whole BG/Miami connection. So as soon as it popped up, that was the first thing that came into my head. As we watch them, BG runs a lot of stuff -- he pretty much said he's learned everything he know as far as coaching from Coach Larranaga, talking about Coach Huger at Bowling Green. So they do run similar stuff. It's just Bowling Green on steroids. They've got the pro version of Bowling Green, I might say. These guys are pretty freaky athletic. I mean, Coach Larranaga does an unbelievable job. I don't think they'll take us lightly, seeing that he took George Mason to the Final Four. He knows what a mid-major program can do in the tournament since he did it himself.

You know, Bowling Green has got obviously different personnel. They run similar stuff. Miami is running a little bit different stuff, but I mean, Miami is just so athletic at every position almost, and they've got great scoring on the perimeter. I don't want to say they're similar to us in that regard, but neither one of us really have a dominant interior scorer that -- now they've got some interior defense. They're going to be hard to score on inside. If our guards get to the lane, they're going to have to deal with an athletic seven-footer at the rim, where obviously Bowling Green didn't have that.

But there's still a lot of similarities now that I've sat down and actually been able to watch a lot of film on Miami, other than when I said it as soon as it first popped up Sunday night.

Q. Coach, just obviously when you accepted this job, the goal was to get right back here, sit right at this podium and talk. How do you look back at it now just knowing not only everything you went through personally but losing personnel, as well. Overall, how does it feel to know you're going to be back in the NCAA Tournament tomorrow?
NATE OATS: Yeah, it feels great. When Danny White interviewed me after Coach Hurley took the Arizona State job, it took us a couple days until they came to the point where he felt like I could do the job. That was a big thing, how do we get back to the tournament? We've got a pretty good team coming back. Can we maintain it? So I thought I could keep most of the players, and we did keep -- initially we did, and then the unfortunate circumstance with Justin's situation, we lost him.

But I mean, it means a lot because we were able to -- Danny shot me a text right after we won the thing on Saturday. It was great to hear from him. He kind of showed some faith in me and belief in me, and I came -- we as a staff and as a team kind of came through and kind of proved that he hopefully made the right decision.

I mean, it's fulfilling. I feel great for the players, though, because even the players we recruited in, we sold them -- we just went to the NCAA Tournament. Our goal is to get back there immediately. And when you come in and are able to do it the next year, it really helps solidify the fact that what you were selling wasn't just a bunch of talk, that you're able to deliver on it. It was a great feeling. It wasn't easy by any stretch. It was a tough year. We had some ups and downs through the year. But guys bought in and came together at the right time.

Q. I know it's early in your trip here, but can you already gauge kind of an emotion level or a vibe from your team, and if that's at all any different from last year's trip to Columbus?
NATE OATS: I do think that the fact we were here a year ago does give it a little bit different vibe, just because there's only three players playing in the rotation that played. But they're still on the team, and the guys that came here, came here knowing we went to the tournament last year. I mean, it's different. It's not quite as new since there's people in the program that have been there and done that now. It's like now they're really trying to get a win. We're still loose, but it's not like a lot of pressure to get a win, but I think we were really happy to be there last year. We've already been here once. Buffalo had never been to the tournament before last year. We've been here once now, so it's great to go back, obviously, but I think guys are maybe a little more focused. We played really well last year. We had a chance to win that thing. Hopefully we can do the same thing this year, too.

Q. Lamonte sees himself as a big-game player. He is, but he doesn't feel he put his best game out there last year against West Virginia. Do you see in him the desire to show the world he's better than that?
NATE OATS: I do, and he is a big-game player. I don't know if you saw there's a little video of when he found his father and mother right after the game Saturday. His dad is giving him big hugs and they're holding up the four, like four in a row, four in a row. He won two state championships in a row, and now he's come here and won two MAC championships in a row. The kid is a winner. He's got some issues here and there, but the kid is a big-time winner.

I think he feels in his heart he belongs at a level like this that we're playing against, and he didn't play that well against West Virginia early in the game. It took him a while to settle in. He had some turnovers, and they play such hard pressure. He's got a tough match-up tomorrow. Angel Rodriguez is no slouch. That kid is really good, and he's going to get up into Lamonte, similar to the guards at West Virginia did. I think he's going to have something to prove. We're going to have to talk to him, almost calm him down a little bit with some of that. I want him to play hard and play well, but he doesn't need to make it an individual "I have to prove something," but I do think -- I think he'll come ready to play.

Q. Both players, your players and the players from Miami, said that they expect this to be an up-tempo game. Is that a game that you guys can win? Running with them, can you win that style of game against them?
NATE OATS: We're not going to slow it down because that's not the way we play. We're going to wait and see if we win that way with them. We're not going to win a slow-down game. I don't have Justin Moss to punch the ball into every time down the floor, so we're going to have to figure it out. Now, we don't want to get in run, run, run, dunk, dunk, dunk, because we can't win that, but we're going to push it and take good shots. If it's not there initially, we're going to run a half-court offense and we're going to get back. I'm not going to be stupid and send five guys to the offensive boards and give them dunks on the other end all the time. We're going to get back and guard them and try to make them score on us in the half court. But we're not going to slow it down because that's not the way I coach. Our guys haven't played like that all year, and I don't think now is the time to try to change the way we're going to play.

Q. You mentioned Jekiri. Nigeria is a big country. Ikenna doesn't know him, right?
NATE OATS: He has not told me that he knows him.

Q. Jekiri, how concerned are you about the size advantage across the board?
NATE OATS: They're a lot bigger at every position. If Jekiri is able to sit in the middle of the lane and just block shots all night -- and not that he's even an big-time shot blocker but he affects everything in there, so even if he doesn't block it, he affects it -- then we're going to be in trouble. So we've got to find ways to draw him out of the lane, whether it's ball screens, Perkins plays 4 and 5 both, if he plays the 5 some. Perkins has been shooting the ball really well, too. So now at the other end, he's going to have to guard him and we give up some size. Even with that, a lot of times during the year, we've been able to put Willie Conner on a point guard and put a lot of size on some of the smaller point guards in our league, then that means Bearden has got to guard one of those wings. Well, McClellan -- it's a tough match-up. We're going to play with the match-ups a little bit. You're going to see some different ones during the course of the game. How we start may not be how it stays through the course of the game. But no, their size -- and they're not just big, they're athletic. You watch some of the personnel highlights, it looks like an NBA highlight film on some of these guys. They're long. They're athletic. But we've been shooting the ball well. If we can continue to shoot the ball well, I think we've got a shot at this thing.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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