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March 27, 2019
THE MODERATOR: Coach, welcome to Louisville.
COACH ALTMAN: Thank you. We've got a big challenge ahead of us. We don't get an opportunity to watch Virginia much during the season because of the time difference, but last couple days, watching them on film, very impressive team, well coached. Know what they want to do on every possession.
So it will be a big challenge for our basketball team, but our guys are excited about the opportunity, excited about the challenge, and we're going to have to play awfully well to give ourselves an opportunity.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up.
Q. It seemed that you had a series there with Virginia about ten years ago. How did that get started?
COACH ALTMAN: I took the job at Oregon and we needed games, so we called Virginia. And we went out there first. It was my first year, so it was nine years ago.
And then the second year, they came back to our place. But we were needing a game, and Tony was needing a game, so we just went home and home and started the series out there and then got beat at home, also.
Q. Dana, obviously, there's a lot of words and rumors being passed around about your program right now with the Michael Avenatti stuff this week. Can you say what's been said or rumored?
COACH ALTMAN: No, I don't have information on that. Bol's been with us this year. I don't have any information on that.
Q. Coach, you guys lost Bol Bol, I think, ninth game of this season. Since then, you've been one of the most efficient defenses in the country. How did you adjust your defense after losing your 7'2" center and what's been the key to your defense being so successful?
COACH ALTMAN: Well we've kind of been up and down all year with the injuries. Lou didn't play the first nine games, nine or ten games, because he was recovering from knee surgery. Then Bol hurt his foot, and then Kenny broke his jaw and was out for a month. When we got him back, Paul White twisted his ankle and he was ineffective for a while.
I know it's an excuse. Everybody has injuries. But we've kind of been up and down with injuries. And Bol would have been a real productive member of our defense. His shot blocking ability would have really helped us. He and Kenny together would have really given us a one-two punch there to protect the rim.
But the guys have stepped up. Our communication's been a lot better here lately. Guys have taken a lot more pride in doing a good job with the scouting report and with their defense.
So hopefully, we can keep that up. This is the most efficient offense, though, we've faced. Their efficiency numbers are off the chart. They don't turn the ball over. They get the shot they want on most possessions. So it will be a big challenge for us defensively, because just how well they handle the ball and how well they know what they want on each possession and look for it.
Q. Along that line, when you talk about offensive efficiency, this team, these last ten games, really seemed to flip the switch in terms of not just scoring points but really locking down.
With everything that's happened, how do you attribute that turnaround so quick?
COACH ALTMAN: Well, I think two things. Communication, first of all. Guys are really doing a better job there. And then we are healthy now. We've got everybody, and the guys have really gelled together.
The nine guys that we're playing now really feel comfortable, I think, with their roles. And, you know, they're really playing unselfishly now on the offensive end and on the defensive end.
So we are playing our best basketball. Whether it will be good enough tomorrow night, I'm not sure, but we are playing a lot better than we were a month, six weeks ago.
Q. Are you concerned at all with Michael Avenatti's allegations concerning Bol Bol? And what's the nature of Bol's relationship with Mel McDonald?
COACH ALTMAN: You know, I don't have any information on the things going on. As far as Mel's relationship with Bol, I know they know each other. What the relationship is, I'm not quite sure, but they definitely know each other.
Q. Dana, having seen Tony's back line defense, even though it was years ago, does that help in your preparation for the way they play it now?
COACH ALTMAN: I think it's not the same defense that he's run. I think they get out a little bit more than what they previously have. They're really pressuring the ball a little bit more with Clark. He's picking up a little bit more full court and that.
So I think it's a little different. As I mentioned earlier, we don't get to see them a lot because of the time difference. But what I've seen and what I remember, I think it's a little bit more extended than it has been in previous years.
They rebound the ball so well, that's the thing that not many people talk about. They're a plus 5 on the boards, and that's a big number. Considering their competition level, to be a plus 5 is a big stat.
Q. Dana, just De'Andre Hunter specifically, what kind of challenges does he specifically play on this team because of his talents?
COACH ALTMAN: He's so versatile. I mean, he does so many things. He can go outside, shoot the 3, puts the ball on the floor, he posts up. Any time you have a young man who -- player who can score in those three areas and just doesn't get in a hurry, his tempo, his pace, you know, he makes the right decision nine times out of ten.
So his ability to score from three different levels and his pace, he's a tough matchup at 6'7", good athlete. Just a real difficult matchup.
Q. Coach, obviously, you knew what you were getting with Amin, but what have you seen here with him lately that's really been a surprise? Where has he really been valuable to you?
COACH ALTMAN: Ehab's given us tremendous energy off the bench. We were really struggling against California-Irvine, and he came in and hit a big shot. But defensively really got us going again.
So his energy off the bench, defensively has been really good. He's been real active on the boards. But he's really a good leader defensively and he's been making some big shots for us.
He went 4 for 4 against Cal-Irvine from 3. He's done some things offensively in the conference tournament to really help us. But his biggest help's been on the defensive end and definitely on the boards.
Q. Looks like you lost those three games in a row, second half of February, then you went on and won ten in a row. Can you kind of -- for those of us who don't see you all the time, what happened there?
COACH ALTMAN: Well, we were really bad in those three games. We had three road games in a row, and it was definitely our low point or one of the low points of the year. We just played really poorly at Oregon State, at USC, and then the second half of UCLA, we broke down defensively terribly. So three really poor performances.
But we came back home, the guys got themselves right, really did a good job getting together and getting each other prepared, and we played really well against Arizona State and Arizona at home. 28-point win over Arizona State. I think 26 over Arizona. And really started playing much more connected offensively and defensively and just started playing a lot better.
But those three road games, we were bad. We weren't a very good basketball team. And the guys really righted the ship there and really did a great job.
Q. Coach, usually a 12 seed gets this far and they're sort of viewed as a Cinderella. You obviously don't have a Cinderella pedigree in Oregon. Being the lone, like, low seed in this tournament, what's your perception of it? Do you use that as a motivator or any sort of underdog role with this team?
COACH ALTMAN: Well, I don't think at this point anybody needs any motivation. The guys are excited about playing. For the total of the season, we weren't a good basketball team. I mean, if you look at our last eight or nine, ten games, we've been a totally different team.
Before that, we were really inconsistent. Within games, from game to game, our consistency was not very good, kind of what you'd expect with four freshmen and a grad transfer and some injuries. We were just up and down.
But, again, the last ten games, we've been a lot different team.
But to answer your question, I think our guys are so excited about playing, I told them right away, when the pairings came out, numbers don't mean anything. Cal-Irvine didn't think of themselves as a 13 after winning 31 games. We didn't think of ourselves as a 12, going against Wisconsin. We didn't look at ourself as a big underdog.
So Virginia is a team that is 31-3. They've established themselves. Their consistency level is off the charts. So we're going to have to play really well. We know that. All areas of the game and especially the boards, we're going to have to play awfully, awfully well to give ourselves an opportunity.
Q. Following up on Amin, when you got him, what kind of role did you envision for him? And just really what were your expectations in where you thought he would fit in?
COACH ALTMAN: Well, he was a starter for us early in the year. I'm not sure how many games, exactly. But he started for us to start the season, and then his role changed as the year went on. Then he got excited about his role and really started doing a great job.
But when we brought him in, we knew he was a good defender. We knew that -- I think he led the nation in steals one year that he was at Corpus Christi.
He averaged double figures so we knew he could score some baskets, but we liked his basketball savvy. We liked how hard he played. So we know we -- we knew he could add something to our ball team.
Q. Coach, as a 6'9" forward who can also shoot the 3, how has Louis King affected your offense this season and how have you seen him step into a large role as a freshman? Did he do that very early? Did he come in late in the season after Bol Bol got hurt? When did he step in?
COACH ALTMAN: He had a slow start. He was recovering from knee surgery so he didn't play, I'm not sure, nine or ten games to start the year. Then we had a minute restriction all the way through December. I don't think he got fully cleared until, maybe, the second week in January.
So he was a little bit rusty coming in after sitting out eight or nine months. But he picked it up, and he's playing really good now. He's shooting it better. His conditioning is a lot better now than it was in January and February.
So I think that's helped him a bunch. He's got a good feel for how we're trying to use him offensively. So he's playing really good. But he did get off to a slow start, obviously, missing the first part of the season. And then being on minute restriction until mid-January, it's kind of hard to really get into a flow until you're 100 percent and ready to go.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thanks and good luck.
COACH ALTMAN: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, the Oregon student-athletes are on their way into the interview room. We'll go ahead and open it up to questions from the floor.
Q. How much have you all had a chance to really study Virginia and really figure out just exactly how you beat that pack line defense.
KENNY WOOTEN: We've been studying them ever since we beat UC-Irvine. And we just been focusing on rebounding, playing defense, and really trying to run them off the line, since they have some good 3-point shooters. Really, our main focus is trying to rebound the ball and get them up tempo.
EHAB AMIN: Oh, yeah, for sure. We enjoyed our win on Sunday, no doubt. But, you know, this is win or go home. We started to focus on Virginia on Monday. And they want to share of the ACC and they won 30 games already almost every year now. Have really good shooters, Kyle Guy, Jerome. Alexander is a really, really good player. So offensively, they're really dangerous. Then, of course, defensively, everybody knows one of the best defensive teams if not -- in the country.
So we've got our work cut out for us. Been watching a little film since Monday, as Kenny said. So it's certainly going to come out to who imposes their will more in executing the game plan.
Q. You've gotten a lot of attention for what you've done here in the tournament. Your coach was saying that you brought a lot of energy. I guess how did you talk about your mindset in terms of switching roles from being a starter to coming off the bench and just being able to juice up things right away?
EHAB AMIN: I mean, this, I think, will happen for our -- what started our winning streak three or four years ago after the UCLA trip. At home, everybody just decided to take a role, whatever it is, you know, whether it's shooting the ball, scoring the ball, rebounding, getting loose balls, taking charges, bringing energy, getting deflections, being the leader, being vocal. Whatever your role is, just do it good.
Coach has been telling us lately, just do your job and do it a little better, especially this late in the season. So it's just been thriving and doing my job and bringing on defense. I think my teammates have been doing a good job trying to help me. Not telling me to stop, but keep going. So I think that's why I've been a little more aggressive lately.
Q. Kenny, you guys have four starters listed at 6'9" or above -- or 6'9", including yourself.
KENNY WOOTEN: Yes.
Q. What are the benefits and drawbacks of that? How have you been able to use that exceptional size to your guys' advantage?
KENNY WOOTEN: You know, it closes a lot of passing lanes, makes it really hard for teams to be able to find the open man and closes a lot of driving lanes so they're not able to drive to the basket as easy.
And with me being in the inside, being able to block shots and affect teams being able to score, I feel like it really benefits the team as a whole, being able to be that long and that lengthy and still be able to be able to guard, like, guards and things like that, being able to switch, being able to guard in the post. Like have Lou guard our post men, have Francis go out there and guard a guard. So I feel like it really all works in our favor.
Q. I'm curious for either of you guys, if you've been part of a swing this drastic where a month ago, you guys are at UCLA feeling like you're not in the tournament, now here we are on the verge of on an Elite Eight. Have you guys experienced anything like that? How different does this team now than it did a month ago?
KENNY WOOTEN: No, I've never been a part of a drastic swing like this, you know, going from thinking that we're never going to be in a tournament, that I was never going to play in a stage like this, to making it to the Sweet 16.
It feels surreal. I'm still trying to take it in one day at a time. Ultimately, I'm just trying to continue to play. To answer your question, no, I've never been part of such a drastic change like this, happened so quick after losing to UCLA, USC, and still being the only team in the PAC that's playing. So no, I haven't.
EHAB AMIN: Me personally, never. Not even close to this. I mean, we was 6-8 in the Pac-12. And we didn't see the end of the tournament at that point, but we just stick with it, and we know that once we got our team together and our defense together, we could be dangerous together in March. Coach would tell us it's never too late, it's not too late.
It's been an up-and-down season for us all year. Bol got hurt seven, eight games into the year with a season-ending injury. Lou didn't even start with us at the beginning of the year. Paul sprained his ankle and was almost out for two weeks. Kenny broke his jaw. Payton was hurt for a little bit, banged up. So it's been an up-and-down year for all of us.
We finally started getting together end of January, early February, and everybody got healthy. And then we started getting even better in practice and showed it in games. We lot a lot of close games early in the year.
Our record didn't show how good we are, and we were young and I think we learned from all these losses early in the year, and they're paying off now. So, yeah, I think we knew that -- not this special, something this special was going to happen, but we knew we can be really good.
Q. Kenny, you mentioned how surreal this whole run has felt. Was there a moment at any point in the run where you took a step back, like, oh, wow, we could actually make some noise here and do something?
KENNY WOOTEN: Yeah. When I realized that we had the capabilities to be able to compete with the top teams, like, in the country was after we beat Washington at home for the senior night.
I never wanted to win a game so bad in my life. Like I wanted to beat them bad because, you know, they beat us on our floor earlier in the year. And it was a lot of things that people were saying about us. We weren't going to be able to win. We were going to lose as soon as we got into the Pac-12 tournament. And we ended up winning the Pac-12 tournament.
So all of that just ended up falling in line. And then that's really when I thought that we were able to do anything if we really just got together, and now we're here.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks and good luck, guys.
KENNY WOOTEN: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports