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March 30, 2017
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Oregon head coach Dana Altman.
COACH ALTMAN: I'm trying to keep our guys in routine but all this media attention makes it kind of difficult. But the guys are very excited about being here, as is our coaching staff. Tremendous opportunity for our basketball program, for our university, and we are looking forward to Saturday's ballgame.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. As much as you talked all season about guards, Dylan, rebounding and crashing the boards in a group effort, as much as North Carolina likes to go underneath, do you try and bring them in? How much more do you emphasis, do you change emphasis in guards and team rebounding?
COACH ALTMAN: North Carolina presents a big challenge, number one rebounding team. Their offensive production from those offensive rebounds is tremendous. We've got a big challenge. The rebounding battle is definitely going to probably be the one that decides the game, that and our defensive transition. We've gotta get back and get our defense put together, because they're a wonderful transition team.
So the boards are a big concern. We're a little undersized in a few positions, and without Chris Boucher, our second leading rebounder, our depth there is not very good. So it will have to be a priority for everyone is who is on the floor.
Q. Talk about the anxiety or what you were feeling when you were waiting to hear back from the NCAA about Dylan's sixth year. And then what his impact has been on and off the court?
COACH ALTMAN: We knew that Dylan Ennis would be a big lift to our program. With those decisions, you don't know when they're are going to come. I think we found out some time in late June that he was going to get his sixth year. But we felt fairly comfortable he would. He had done a great job academically. His injury, of course, was -- he only played one game because of the foot. So we felt like we had an excellent opportunity and he's made a tremendous impact on our team this year.
Q. Tyler is on an incredible run right now, I think 62.5 percent from 3 the last six games. What have you thought of his play lately. And how do you think he's been able to just totally blow up the Pac-12 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament?
COACH ALTMAN: He's been on a tear, no doubt about it. Ironically the thing that I think that really got him going, our last ballgame against Oregon State on the road he only scored one point. We had a big win. And so we didn't need him to score a lot. But I think it refocused him.
But the thing I'm really most pleased with Tyler is not only has his scoring increased, his rebounding production. He started the conference tournament off with nine rebounds against Arizona State. Defensively he's been very active. So it's been his entire game that has really picked up. And I think not worrying about scoring, just worrying about playing the game has really picked up his production everywhere.
He's playing with tremendous confidence. Our guys have confidence in him. He banked in one of those 3s against Kansas to end the half. But when you're on a roll and you're playing with a lot of confidence, things like that happen.
Q. This is the most wide-spread press your program has gotten since the notorious sequence of incidents three years ago. With the benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to reflect, do you have any regrets about the way you handled the situation with the three dismissed players?
COACH ALTMAN: No, I'm comfortable with the way we handled it. It was three years ago. But I think in retrospect everything was handled correctly.
Q. In the weeks and months that preceded that after the players were banned from campus, did you encounter a lot of negative recruiting? What was it like to be a part of the program as the fallout came in May, June, July, into the season?
COACH ALTMAN: Our guys did a great job, our staff did a great job. We had great support from the university. So it went fairly smooth.
Q. You've got a pretty important big fan in Phil Knight. I was wondering what it's like, how many dealings do you have with him, or if you can express the impact that he's had on your program?
COACH ALTMAN: Mr. Knight and Penny have had a big impact on our entire university, the entire state. They just donated, made a large donation of $500 million for a scientific research center. So his impact on our university is widespread.
He has done a lot for our athletic department. Our basketball arena is named after his son. So he's someone who's been a great supporter. And I don't see him too much. I see him at football games. He loves to go to the football games. I see him at halftime there. And he comes to, oh, a handful, 10 of our home games. And he's been with us here on the tournament. So very supportive. I'm happy that we could get to a Final Four for him.
Q. Obviously the guys were very excited to come here with Casey Benson, local kid. And now that they've been here they have a lot of great stories to share in the locker room about Casey's knowledge of the area, his 70- to 100-person family-and-friends group that might be attending. What's it like now that you're here with him experiencing it?
COACH ALTMAN: I'm really happy for Casey and his family. Hometown guy and three state championships. And so it's great for him to come home. I just hope the family can handle all the ticket requests, and he can settle down a little bit because he'll have a lot of family there, I'm sure.
Q. Pac-12 tournament, lost to Arizona. After that game, where did you guys -- did you guys come together more as a team especially after the loss of one of your key players? And just what did you learn from that game that maybe propelled you to four victories in the NCAA Tournament?
COACH ALTMAN: It was stunning when we found out that day that Chris was not going to be with us. That night, we had a little trouble defending the paint. Arizona got inside quite a bit on us. And we lost, I think, a 3-point game. So it was a tough loss for us. We didn't really change things. We just had each of our guys step up and try to do a little bit more.
And fortunately for us Jordan Bell has really stepped up. Kavell's filled some of those minutes. And each of the guys has done just a little bit more, I think, to help fill the big hole that Chris left. He was our leading shot blocker, our second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer. So we miss him greatly.
Q. Dillon's fire that he plays with -- Brooks -- seems to be something that sort of fuels him and maybe the team. But I wonder, has there been times where you thought there was too much of that? If so how have you seen him mature and dial it back? And secondly how many times have you watched the flop against Utah?
COACH ALTMAN: Well, the flop, I just saw it a couple times. But his teammates rubbed it in pretty good to him. So he had a hard time living that one down. But his passion for the game, I've never had to ask him to work harder in practice, never worry about his effort during a ballgame. His freshman year, we did go up and down with -- I have to take him out of games and just let him calm down for five, six minutes, just because he'd get going way too fast.
Over the years he's gradually gotten better. It's a fine line there. What makes him a very good player, a player that loves the big moments, is because of that love of the game, his work ethic, his confidence. So as a coach you don't want to take any of that away. But you've got to balance it. And I think he's done a better job each year.
Q. Do you perceive with this matchup, do you expect to play Kavell more? And do you need more out of him to give Jordan a wing man there going up against their big guys?
COACH ALTMAN: I think that Kavell's going to have to have a big game for us. Our previous four games in the NCAA Tournament have been perimeter-oriented teams. And now we face a team that really is good inside with Meeks and Hicks, Bradley. They're good inside. So I think Kavell will be a big part of our equation. I think he's going to have to rebound the ball and give us some good minutes.
Q. I was wondering about that year that Jordan spent after high school, before he came to Oregon, what happened? Were you doubting that he'd actually show up there eventually and/or that he would get cleared and kind of what was that all like?
COACH ALTMAN: No, he had to get some NCAA requirements. And so we didn't -- we weren't fearful he wouldn't show up. We knew he was trying to get everything put together so that he could join our program.
Q. I want to go back to Jordan Bell and his dominance throughout the regular season. But once you guys lost Boucher, it seemed like he took his game to just another level and he's been in another gear. What has he done differently to take it to the level that he's playing at right now, especially at the most important time of the season?
COACH ALTMAN: I think part of it has just been his focus. And he's risen to the occasion. I think he knew when Chris went down that there was going to be more pressure on him to perform. And fortunately for us he's handled that pressure very well.
So I don't think he's changed his approach dramatically. But he's gotten off to a good start. But if you look at his numbers to end the season, they were all pretty good.
Q. I asked Dillon Brooks, with this being a new territory for all of you guys, he said nothing fazes you when it comes to the big stage. Does anything faze you? And what's been your composure and your coaching staff this year?
COACH ALTMAN: It's a new experience for all of us. So we try to approach it like we've approached all our games throughout the season. I think one advantage we have is the Pac-12 schedule with our road swings, we're used to playing like Thursday/Saturday games, two road games on the road and you've got one day to prepare. So I think that helps us a little bit.
But we try to stay in our routine. It was a little easier the last two weekends because there wasn't all the hype and the media and so forth. But we're going to try to keep it as close to our routine as possible, and try to get the guys to focus on the game Saturday. And we get to practice here when we get done with all this in just a little bit and hopefully get them refocused and ready to go for North Carolina.
Q. I know, Coach, you're focused on your team and winning for Oregon and for your squad. You're the only representative from the Pac-12. We're here in Pac-12 country. What's it like carrying the conference's banner?
COACH ALTMAN: I am, you know, proud or pleased that we're carrying the banner for the Pac-12. We've had a great year in the league this year. Arizona had a great team. And UCLA, very explosive. So it was a good year for our league. It has been a number of years since the Pac-12 has had a representative in the Final Four. So we are mostly proud for the University of Oregon, but we are part of the Pac-12, and that is significant for our players and our coaching staff.
Q. Dana, you think back a couple years when you signed Dillon and Casey and Jordan, the program was in kind of a tough spot at that time. Did you see this coming this quickly when you signed that core group of guys?
COACH ALTMAN: You know, it's one year at a time. With players that transfer and players that may leave early, it's not like you can plan three or four years ahead and have everything come together. So we were hoping, because of Jordan Bell's athleticism, that he would improve.
We mentioned Dillon Brooks' fire and competitiveness. So we knew what we had there. Casey Benson's a winner. He won three state championships here in Arizona. So you hope that those guys will develop. But injuries are a big part of it. Jordan was injured for part of last year, missed 10 games. Dillon has fought some injuries. So those things you can never forecast, don't know how those things will work out. But those are three good guys and three good guys who have been a good core for us.
Q. Jordan Bell had said that his experience in the Drew League for several summers down in L.A., it's pretty unique playing against sometimes former NBA guys, current NBA guys, grown men, he said he felt like he learned quite a bit. Do you encourage guys to seek that competition during the summertime? And do you think that it's actually paid off for him playing and the way he's playing at the college level?
COACH ALTMAN: I don't really know. Jordan's a talented player. I think any experience that our players happen to get along the way is beneficial. But I'm not sure directly if it affected it any.
Q. So also going back to when you brought in Dillon and Casey and Jordan, did you kind of see these guys playing with a chip on their shoulder when they first came in, being picked eighth in the conference and not being a highly rated recruiting class?
COACH ALTMAN: I don't know. I don't know if they knew any better. I think Joe Young was with us and some of our returning players were upset that we were picked eighth. If it wouldn't have been the Pac-12, I'm not sure the guys would have known how many teams were in the league. They thought they were good, which is important. You gotta have some confidence. But Joe told them that being picked eighth wasn't good. And Joe was a competitor. And he was a big part of that season. Elgin had a great year. And those three freshmen were a big part of our team.
Q. Against Kansas you guys had the lead. So offensively you decided to run down the shot clock before getting a play going. How difficult can it be to decide to start running the shot clock down before or maybe just continue running your offense?
COACH ALTMAN: We didn't decide that. We were out of gas. We were just ran down. We had a good first 25, 30 minutes. But there wasn't any, okay, we're going to start taking time. We just are playing guys and got a little fatigued there.
We had a five or six-minute stretch where we just didn't play very well. We didn't play with much energy. Fortunately Jordan protected the basket well and we didn't give up many easy baskets. But we weren't trying to take time and we just couldn't get anything going.
Q. I know you're not a huge social media guy, but have you seen the things, Jordan Bell can block memes, or hashtag?
COACH ALTMAN: He showed me. So I saw a few of them. I'm sure he's excited about it. Like I said, social media, those guys like it, and he's pretty excited about it. So I hope he can get a few on Saturday.
Q. You talked about North Carolina's size inside, but they also have a lot of big wings -- Pinson, 6'6" and Jackson, 6'8". And how does your small guard play match up against them and their size? And do you think you could use your speed to maybe run them down a little bit?
COACH ALTMAN: We hope so. We hope that we're quicker. But they're a very athletic team. And you're right, Jackson on the wings, 6'7" and long arms, presents some problems. We'll have a hard time, he's 18 points a game, we'll have a hard time guarding him.
So it is a tough matchup for us all the way around. We hope to make it a tough matchup for them with spreading the floor a little bit and hopefully using some quickness.
Q. Curious about the evolution of the relationship between Boucher and Bell from the time when they were really competing kind of against one another to being productive teammates together, and now the situation they're in now, with Bell being one of the main guys that has to try and mitigate Boucher's absence. What have you seen from the two of them and the way they've been interacting?
COACH ALTMAN: Well, I think they get along really good. Last year I noticed more of the competition. Jordan was our leading shot blocker, and Chris came in and started blocking more shots and Jordan was hurt. He didn't play the first 10 games. So that bothered him.
But the two of them, like I said, Chris is one of our most popular players. And he gets along with everybody. And so he and Jordan have really gotten along well. When they played together, they were both unselfish. And we had two guys out there that could change shots, which really made our defense more effective. And our defensive numbers are good because of those two guys. They do a great job inside.
So I thought they got along really good. It was good to see them compete against each other for block shots. And then in practice they went after each other real good, made each other better.
Q. You were at Creighton a long time. You were cautious or patient, if you will, in leaving there. What convinced you that this could be done at Oregon? Did you see this coming? And what convinced you that that was the right fit for you to make?
COACH ALTMAN: Well, I was at Creighton 16 years, with the exception of one day when I went to Arkansas. But I don't know. It was a point in my life, I was 52. My daughter was graduating. So our kids were all out of the house. I met with Pat Kilkenny and he was very persuasive. And felt like he could get it done, and we could get it done at Oregon.
And I always liked the Pac-12, the up and down of the league -- UCLA, Arizona, the fact that the league got up and down. And that's the way we played at Creighton. We pressed a lot and ran. So I thought it was a league that fit our style real well.
So it was just that time. And it was an opportunity that I thought we could build something. And it's worked out okay, so hopefully we can continue to build and even get better, be more consistent than we've had an opportunity to be.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports