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March 23, 2007
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
Q. Somebody mentioned Lighty's big three pointers a minute ago, somebody told me at that point he was something like one for 22. What does it say about a kid who will take that shot in that situation, knowing he's been struggling?
COACH MATTA: Well, I think watching that shot go for him was obviously a big shot for him. I've never said a whole lot to him about they weren't going in. The biggest thing I've been on David about is taking care of the basketball and he's done that. We always tell our guys if you're open, shoot it. And he couldn't have been more open than he was. David has worked extremely hard every day on his shot and we've made a couple of minor adjustments as we've been going through.
As a coach you love to see that pay off for him in that situation.
Q. Being the 20 year anniversary of the 3 point shot, your thoughts on how that shot has changed the game for better or worse. Do you like it where it is?
COACH MATTA: I love the three, because that's about all I could do as a player. It helped me. But I think it's good for college basketball. I haven't thought about the moving it back. Somebody asked me that earlier. I think that it's a tremendous equalizer for teams, and I think the biggest difference from 20 years ago, you're really starting to see guys getting more skilled. Against Xavier there were times we had five guys on the floor that could shoot the three. Last night Tennessee had five guys on the floor that could shoot the three. So I think it's really starting to change the way the game is played.
Q. All season long it seems like it's been a team that had confidence in itself regardless of the situation. In the first half in a game like yesterday, does that overwhelming confidence almost lead to complacency, if you fall behind early maybe you don't start pressing sooner, because you think we're going to come back from this?
COACH MATTA: No, I think, you know, the one thing that I haven't forgotten is how well Tennessee played last night. That first half is going through, I'm saying to this, this is just like the tape I watched where they had Florida down 25.
They stung us early. I don't think we were complacent. I think you go to the Xavier game, we were up at halftime. Teams in this tournament, I've said this, this tournament is about runs and putting runs together and stopping your opponent from getting on a run. The thing last night is it just took us 20 minutes to stop Tennessee's run. I think these guys have shown -- I think that they do have a sense of confidence, which I want them to have that. But I don't think that there's a magic potion of complacency or confidence and they go hand-in-hand. Obviously I don't like being down 20 points, but giving Tennessee their due, I thought they played about as well as any team I've seen through that stretch.
Q. Since it's that time of year when I think you can talk about these things, if Kentucky would approach you about their vacancy for the coaching job, would you have any interest in talking to them or how would you handle that?
COACH MATTA: No, all I want to do is beat Memphis. I think the great thing that I've enjoyed is I love the path we're on to what we set out to do at Ohio State when we came here. And that was to build a championship caliber basketball team. In three years we won two Big Ten championships, we've been the 2 seed and 1 seed in this tournament. I love where we are in regards to recruiting. So I'm -- that thought has honestly never crossed my mind. I haven't had time, to be honest. But, no.
Q. You wouldn't talk to them?
COACH MATTA: No.
Q. Coach, you're talking about the different tracks both teams have been on, there has to be some benefit having been in a Big Ten schedule. Can you compare it when you were at Xavier and you came to the tournament and you hadn't faced the day-in-day-out competition like this team has now?
COACH MATTA: Yeah, I think you hope as a coach that that has gotten you battle tested, if you will. I think going back to Xavier, you had the No. 1 team in the country, undefeated, and St. Joe's in the league that year and there was some really other good -- date on, I think, was a tournament team that year, St. Joe's, us, I think there may have been one other, if I'm not mistaken. But I've always said this, I put so much more stock in winning a conference championship with 8 home games, 8 on the road. Our thought of when we put together our non-conference schedule was with the NCAA Tournament in mind, with the young basketball team that we were going to have a lot of challenges. And I think that's helped us, coupled in with the Big Ten. There's not a lot that this team has not seen, and now as that ball gets tossed up tomorrow, I really believe all that is thrown out the window, you now have to play. But hopefully the habits of going through a Big Ten season has helped you.
Q. There is an advantage that you have, without even consciously mentioning it to your team. You talk about throwing it out. But it's still there. They've been battle tested. Do you feel that gives you a bit of an advantage?
COACH MATTA: Not really, not in this game. Maybe in a first round game or a second round game because quite honestly as we were saying this morning in the staff meeting, do we really want to play Memphis? No. Who do you want to play? You know what I'm saying, there's going to be 8 teams left tomorrow when he play and every team is going to be a great basketball team.
Q. This is something else altogether off-topic. Obviously we've had a full year with the new 19-year-old rule from the NBA. Your program has benefitted from it. Some concerns from Bob /TPHAO*EUT and others with the academic end of this thing. Now that we've had time to look at it, is this the best thing for college basketball? What's the role of the head coach from the academic standpoint to make sure these guys are doing what they're supposed to do academically?
COACH MATTA: I think from the academic side of it, it begins with who the young man is and through the recruiting process. I love the fact Greg rolled into Ohio State with a 3.9 GPA and academics were extremely important to him. One of the goals he has in life is to earn his college degree. I think that as far as the change in college basketball, I think it's good for college basketball. I don't know if it's good for the kids if they could go straight to the NBA, but I think you've seen the impact of how good these guys are when they become freshmen and get in. I love that the parity that it's given the game. I think you want to continue to see that as guys go to college. They're going to make a huge impact. I think what these guys have done, the new guys for us, with only one starter back, that we had, and only four returning players, I think it's shown that they can really play and adjust and get themselves ready quicker.
Q. Even if throughout the -- throughout the records and rankings at this point, this freshman class when he was recruited, the Final Four Championship predictions were put on it. When you said 24 hours out, does that not loom somewhere in the back of all of your minds?
COACH MATTA: It doesn't in mine. Maybe it does in theirs. We haven't ever addressed expectations. We haven't addressed predictions of what this team wants to do. And that's been a decision I've made in my mind of how we were going to approach this season.
I think at times -- at a certain point it got to us a little bit this year. And we kind of took the bull by the horns and got it corrected real quick. And it wasn't anything our guys did, it was more of the outside, and the perception of it all. I don't think -- I don't feel anymore pressure going into tomorrow's game than I did three years ago going into the same game, it's just we've got to go out and play and play solid for 40 minutes.
Q. I wonder if you could go over again about the adjustment you made at halftime to spread your offense even more and even move Greg out of the post to give your guys some driving lanes. And you consciously went into that second half wanting to score with the clock stopped, by getting to the free throw line, that would help you catch up?
COACH MATTA: We wanted to score, first. Yeah, I thought it kind of dictated itself with the fouls. And the great things about the fouls last night, it was allowing us to rest while we were shooting free throws, because you look and it takes a lot of energy to come from 17 down. I think that we did want to spread it out a little bit more and create a little bit more and obviously it worked out well for us.
Q. Just wondering for you and your staff what this run is like in the tournament. Do you have time to have fun and enjoy this or is it game ends late last night, you're looking at Memphis, here we go again. What is this like for a coach when you're in the tournament on a run and have a chance to go to the Final Four with a win of the game tomorrow?
COACH MATTA: I'm sad to say I haven't got the time to enjoy it the way that I would like to. I think that it's funny, you do go right to the next thing. My wife asked me the other day, I came in the room for about ten minutes, hey, do you want to go take a walk on the Riverwalk? And I guess my look answered the question for me, because she then apologized for asking the question.
I think that -- I'm so in love with this team and I want them to be successful, and I feel like we have to put all our efforts into getting them as prepared as we can physically and mentally and through the preparation, that I hope at some point later than sooner I will be able to sit down and really enjoy it, because it has been an incredible run. And I think that the goal is to continue on, but like I said, at some point I hope that I can sit down and really go through it, as I do in the off season, sit down and watch all the game tapes again. I think I'll see some things that will really make me smile.
Q. You talked about seeding before, and both the elite match-ups are ones and twos, all four could get to Atlanta the first time ever. If you could talk about the job your committee has done and how this tournament has been from the perspective of a coach?
COACH MATTA: I've said this, I think the hardest -- one of the hardest jobs in the world has to be on that committee. And I think it's incredible what they do. I don't know exactly all the ins and outs of it and how they come up with 65 teams. But it's obvious you've got some great minds on there, basketball-wise, that can see the games, can see the teams and really predict where the best match-ups would be. And I think there's been some incredible games, and we've probably been in two of the most incredible games so far. But I think it speaks volumes of the homework they do and the commitment they make to get the teams to where they are.
Q. Quick question for you about Greg. When he's defended by smaller players versus bigger players, against Memphis he's going to see bigger guys than against Tennessee, is that a benefit for him in terms of how the game is called, that sort of thing?
COACH MATTA: Yeah, I think we've seen all kinds this year. We've seen a little bit of everything and I think Greg probably prefers playing against bigger guys, just maybe a feeling and knows where they are. He's never said that, but I think that in watching him this year he probably does a little bit better maybe big on big.
Q. You talked to Sean Miller after the Xavier game. Would you mind telling me a little bit about that and also how many, on average, when you get in the tournament, how many coaches will you speak to outside of this gym to get ready for Memphis and get ready to go next?
COACH MATTA: Sean and I, our conversation was, I probably talked to him a couple of times, really just sort of getting his thoughts on our team and talking about -- what they were trying to do to us and he wanted to know what we thought of his team and that sort of thing. I don't talk to many coaches outside. I've talked to Todd, obviously, when we played Florida. That's really been about it, I think.
Q. So you won't call your friends in the business who have played Memphis this year, not to name names, and get their insights?
COACH MATTA: No, I don't -- strictly from the standpoint, obviously people love to give advice on your team, but they don't know your team. We've had 105 practices, I think myself and our staff have the best feel for our guys. That's why I don't offer up a whole lot of advice to anybody else on their team because I don't know their team well enough to say, hey, you really need to do this or if I were you, I would do this, because I don't know really what their method is a whole lot. Sean and Todd are really the guys, Jimmy Christian, I probably talk to the most.
Q. When Ron came to you and wanted to transfer, did he have to sell himself to you very much or by that time did you know about him at Bowling Green?
COACH MATTA: No, he didn't have to sell very hard, because we didn't have very many players, we needed to fill scholarships. We were like if he can walk and chew gum, we'll take him.
Obviously when a fax comes through, and Ron Lewis is transferring, we were like, oh, who is this kid? He plays at Bowling Green. I think we had some tape. We talked to his high school coaches, talked to some guys that were in his league and sat down and talked with Ron. As I always do, I want to know what's important to the young man, what's he looking for and make sure it's a fit. There was no question that it was a great fit for us and for him coming back home. It obviously worked out well.
Q. Coach, between the two teams, you guys have won, I believe, it's 45 games in a row. Just wondering the characteristics of a ball club to be able to do something like, to be able to keep its poise, and the type of players you have to do that.
COACH MATTA: Well, I think for us, I'm not speaking for Memphis, is certainly taking a day-by-day approach and keeping the majority of the focus on ourselves and what we have to do and honestly not getting tired of preparing to win. I think it says a lot about these guys that they have been able to do that, to keep the focus and going from playing at Northwestern, who plays a different style to playing a Michigan State to playing a Wisconsin, and I think these guys truly have a great appreciation for winning and what it takes to win. And that's the thing I've enjoyed about this team is their mindset every day when they come in.
As we got back late last night to the hotel and began talking about Memphis, their focus and concentration -- we didn't do a lot -- but was very good and a thorough understanding of what we have to do. I think that's probably what -- we haven't talked about a winning streak or anything like that, it's just who do we got next, and let's get ready.
Q. This is for anybody, and I know you guys weren't here, but kind of like the 2002 football season, this living on the edge. I'm just wondering how you're handling that, every night is another heart pounding game or maybe it's not for you guys, but if anybody has brought that up, friends, family or anything?
RON LEWIS: I think they bring it up to me and Ivan because we're the seniors. But it is kind of -- we really don't think about that, we just play basketball, come out, play together as a team and try to do the best we can.
Q. How do you keep your cool in this situation?
RON LEWIS: I think just go out there and play. You start thinking a lot, start thinking about what's going to happen and if you lose this game, you're not going to do the team any justice. You have to keep with the game plan and keep focused.
Q. Coach, talk about Ron Lewis, is this the best basketball he's played in his career, do you think? Is it his leadership as much as his scoring that you value right now?
COACH MATTA: I think Ron is playing tremendous basketball for us. One of the things we talk about in our program, the more you give the more that will come back to you. And probably about a month I started to notice Ron really taking personal leadership responsibility and the little things that he's done in time outs or in the locker room or in practice has been tremendous. And I think that he's really reaping the rewards of giving and receiving. I couldn't have been happier for Ron. From the day Ron came to The Ohio State University I've watched his growth as a player and as a person and I'm extremely proud to be a part of his maturity along the way.
Q. I wonder if you could talk about what makes this team so successful in pressure situations. You guys are a young group, a young point guard, why have you been able to thrive in a situation that would be daunting for a lot of other teams?
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: I think earlier on in the year, going down to North Carolina and Florida really helped us out in the long run, playing teams like that and being in close game situations. As the year went on we grew as a team. We were able to stick together and not drift apart in those times that we really need to be together. It's definitely helped us out in the last two games with Xavier and Tennessee.
Q. Greg, what are teams doing or what are you doing or not doing that's leading to foul trouble in the last couple of games?
GREG ODEN: Just being more physical with me and me being physical back, just putting the refs in a position to call those fouls. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. The thing with me is I just can't put myself in those positions and be able to hold my ground and just not use my hands as much.
Q. Coach, what's the most amazing thing that you've seen Greg do all year?
COACH MATTA: There's been a lot of them. And I would say probably the No. 1 thing would be how he taught himself to shoot free throws left-handed and shoot them in the way that he did. I think the other thing would be along those lines of sitting out for 7 straight months and being thrust into the pressure situation that he was thrust into and everybody expecting him to be 100 percent from the day he got back and how he handled that and how he continued to work. He road the peaks and the valleys and just was extremely diligent, every day after practice he would spend about 40 minutes working with Allen and just developing his game. You think of the frustration, we've laughed about this, when he came back he was rebounding with one hand, he was catching with one hand. He couldn't use his right hand and people at times would criticize him and we were laughing as the staff saying they have no idea what he can't do. We didn't want to tell anybody because we didn't want to exploit that weakness for Greg. Now his hand is much more mobile, and I think those have probably been the most amazing things?
Q. When you were at Xavier, what was the scouting report on Ron? I know you talked about his leadership, but his skill level, how much has that improved since the first time he showed up at your doorstep?
COACH MATTA: We never played against Ron when I was at Xavier.
Q. You scouted him as a coach, didn't you?
COACH MATTA: I'm embarrassed to say we didn't.
Q. Why didn't you?
COACH MATTA: I don't know, but a couple of coaches lost their jobs over that (laughter). Honestly, I am embarrassed to say we didn't know who he was. He played on such a great high school team. But in watching him develop I think that you've got, one, a very passionate kid who wants to be a great player. He wasn't a great shooter when he came to Ohio State, he could drive a ball and get fouled. But I think he's really added a lot to his game and his assisted turnover ratio has got a lot better. One of the greatest things that ever happened to he and Jamar was a teammate called Je'Kel Foster in practice every day. Those guys were -- Je'Kel was like a mentor to those two. Ron was even a red shirt. But they weren't in the starting lineup and every day they would battle and beat the heck out of the starting team. And I think that really set the stage for those two.
Q. I think there have been some skepticism that Mike Conley could hold up physically in the Big Ten. I wondered what you saw that convinced you that he could?
COACH MATTA: Well, I think that the first thing would be Michael is one of the toughest kids I've ever met, but you never see that side of him. I think he's ultra competitive. He's got tremendous athleticism coupled with intelligence. I think one of the biggest things that has helped this team, for instance we didn't have last year, was the nine guys that we play. And we've been able to give them longer breaks. I've probably been a little smarter with practices and trying to limit his minutes in practice. But the one thing, he's accustomed to winning and he's going to do whatever he has to do to win basketball games?
Q. Mike, you talked after the game last night about playing the whole game the way you guys did the second half. I wondered if that was anything that you talked about as a team after the game, why it didn't happen from the outset last night and what you need to do to make sure it does happen tomorrow?
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: Yeah, that's a big point that we need to improve on. I think we weren't ready mentally the first two minutes yesterday. And they came out and punched us in the stomach and we didn't fight back. We have to be ready for those situations. You have to be ready for big games like that. We can't afford to play that way against a team like Memphis or anybody else from here on.
Q. Any ideas why it did happen?
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: I'm not sure. I felt like we were ready, but maybe the way they came out firing kind of caught us off guard a little bit. But I'm not really sure. Hopefully we can change that next game.
Q. Have you been able to put your finger on or figure out why Greg has 9 fouls, the last few games. Have you been able to figure anything out?
COACH MATTA: I think it's been a little bit of both. You go through a Big Ten season, and you look at -- go back to Wisconsin game, that was literally amazing the physicality of that game. But I think the other thing is, just the match-ups and what teams have attempted to do have probably played more into that. And I think Greg, I love his basketball IQ and he knows what he has to do, get a little bit more in the stance and alleviate those situations as much as we can. We've got to do a better job on the perimeter as well and not put Greg in those situations.
Q. I know it's been a quick turn around, but so far in Memphis, what are the things that stand out for you?
COACH MATTA: I think extremely talented, deep basketball team. They're high powered on offense. They create a lot of their offense through their defense. I think they're a little bit like us on any given night they've got a lot of guys that can step up and make big plays for them. And I think they play extremely hard, they rebound the ball well and get out and score easy baskets.
Q. Greg, you came in a big name, drawing a lot of attention, but guys like Ron Lewis had said that you and the other freshmen were very respectful of the veterans. Can you talk about what you've learned as far as leadership, emotional stuff from Ron Lewis?
GREG ODEN: Ron has been here before, so this is my first go around in college and so I just come in with my eyes open and a lot to learn and I listen because those guys have been through it before and they have a lot to teach me. So you just want to come in and be real respectful and know that you have a lot to learn and improve on.
Q. Question on injuries, Ivan, what was your thought when you went down on your leg, first of all, was it because Greg fell over the top of you? And also, after that, Greg, just a question on your chin. I understand you had three stitches. What did you think might be wrong when you hit the floor?
IVAN HARRIS: Yeah, I was trying to take a charge and Greg was trying to block a shot. I guess I was behind him and I tripped him up and he landed on my knee. But my knee is fine right now. I'm just ready to play tomorrow.
GREG ODEN: My chin is fine. I got three stitches, that's it (laughter).
Q. I was just curious, is Coach Russell still texting you, and has he said anything about what a wild ride you're on, kind of like what they were on?
COACH MATTA: Yeah, I get my -- I don't think I sleep, he sends texts like at 3:00 in the morning. He's been great. He's always offering up words of encouragement. It says a lot about him, it's all focused on team and playing hard and trying to finish a mission and it's always good to get those and read and ponder them and take it and let the guys know kind of what he said. He spoke to us -- he came in one day unannounced and spoke to the team, I don't know, I think in Lexington, and as always he does a great job for us.
Q. Did he make any mention of 2002?
COACH MATTA: He did not, no, he did not.
Q. Coach C has spent a lot of time defending the conference that they play in. You just mentioned the rigors of going through the Big Ten. Do you feel like playing in a tough conference like the Big Ten better prepares you for this time of year or has Memphis dispelled that theory?
COACH MATTA: I think Coach C has done a great job of -- he goes out and plays a heck of a non-conference schedule. I don't know a lot about conference USA, but as I told these guys, they were in this exact same game last year. You obviously look at what Calipari has done. He obviously put himself in a category of being one of the great college coaches in the country. He recruits great players and coaches them and obviously is achieving high success.
Q. After the Xavier game, you mentioned how determined you were to go out and do better. Do you think you were maybe almost too determined with how the Xavier game ended?
GREG ODEN: No, I think I got in foul trouble in the first half. I think I did a pretty decent job? In the second half. It was more about effort and not about me scoring. It was about me being out and running the floor hard and creating things for my teammates. It was the effort that I felt I had a pretty decent game yesterday. We needed to play hard in the second half and I think I stepped up and did that, also.
Q. Does it hurt at all, talking about Greg's foul trouble, does it hurt at all to have officials who haven't done his games at all, don't know what he can do? We were talking to one of your assistance in one of the Big Ten tournament games, he was commenting we haven't seen these guys all year, because sometimes Greg might pick up fouls?
COACH MATTA: I think that it is at times unique. It's funny, we hear, as the season winds down and teams stop playing, kind of their approach. I don't know why people didn't think Shawn and I were going to talk after the game, and he told me what people were saying, he said just call them, they won't call them all. And that was pretty consistent across the board of what they were saying. I don't think, if they've seen us or haven't seen us it's a whole lot different. I think we just -- we have to be smart as coaches in our approach and Greg has to be smart in his approach.
Q. Jamar, I don't want you to feel left out. Could you just talk a little bit. Lighty has spent the better part of the season trying to get a shot to fall for him. Would you just talk about what you thought when first he had the three point play at the end of the half and then he made the three down the stretch when you guys were making your run, what did you think when those -- after seeing a lot of his shots go in and out all season, what did you think when a couple finally went in?
JAMAR BUTLER: I think he got his momentum going in the halftime, and the second half, you know, kept thriving on that, and the big shot in the second half, it was a huge three, and he played to the very last.
Q. For any of you players, just your impressions in the crash course you're getting on Memphis what you've seen, just your impressions of the team and the challenge you face tomorrow?
RON LEWIS: They're an up and down team, tempo. They like to drive the ball, pass and kick, they play together a lot. They're a young basketball team but their poised and their big man offensive rebound a lot, so we have to keep them off the glass.
Q. I know you probably wouldn't root for anybody in the first game, but now that Memphis has won, are you happy that you won't have to deal with that Texas crowd, it's going to be a little more even for your game tomorrow?
COACH MATTA: I didn't get out to see, but the coaches we were scouting were saying it was predominantly Texas A&M, as it should be. I think that will even the playing field more in that situation. The funny thing, you think about it, for Texas A&M, they did have to play Louisville, 70 miles from home, as well. But I do think that will be hopefully a little bit of an advantage for both us and Memphis.
Q. Greg, can you talk about the block at the end, what you were thinking as Tennessee is bringing the ball down the court, if you knew you were going to block that shot or what it felt like after you did block it at the end?
GREG ODEN: It felt like we won (laughter). It was just I didn't want -- I saw that Ramar Smith had his head down and he wasn't going to pass it to my man, so I went over to help. I'm happy to get the block, but I think the time expired before I got the block, also.
Q. Just for the record, Thad or Greg, was that officially a block or did time expire?
COACH MATTA: I don't know. Bill Rafferty told me after the game he didn't think it would have counted. I haven't seen it close, I didn't rewind it, sorry.
Q. Kind of along those lines, Mike, when you're at the free throw loan at 6.5, was anything going through your head?
MIKE CONLEY, JR.: I was trying to keep a lot out of my head at that time, I was just concentrating on the free throws. I wanted to make both of them, but I knew I was going to make this one. After I made that one, unfortunately I missed the second one. At that point it was trying to get back and get a defensive stance and not let them get an easy shot.
Q. This question is for Jamar and Ivan, is this the best basketball you've seen out of Ron so far and you played with him now for an while, are you guys looking for him now, because he's so hot?
IVAN HARRIS: I think so. Ron Lewis is an excellent player. When he got to Ohio State I always knew he had it in him. Around this tournament time we needed him and he's stepping up his game. And we're going to give him the ball and let him go to work.
JAMAR BUTLER: Obviously Ron is playing really great right now. He's stepping up, he's making big shots towards the end of the game. He's been the senior leader. If he keeps playing like that we'll keep going to him.
Q. Since coach said he really is embarrassed and didn't know about you before you transferred in, other than just leading his team to the Elite 8, what did you know about Coach Matta when you transferred to Ohio State?
RON LEWIS: I know he'd been winning since he become a coach. And I also knew that he played the style of basketball that I would like to play. So those two go hand-in-hand with each other. I made my decision off of that.
Q. Thad, despite the winning streaks that both teams bring into this game, how different do you think the tracks are, when you guys are No. 1 in the lime light and they certainly haven't gotten the attention you have, does that have an impact tomorrow?
COACH MATTA: I don't think it does, because of the magnitude of the game. I really believe at this stage, 25 hours or 26 hours from tip off, win streaks, where we're ranked, all that stuff is really out the window, in my mind, for our team. It's more about let's get ready to play and try to get the job done. If we had a week to prepare or something like that, I think maybe it plays into it, but Memphis has shown all year long, as I think we have, we have two really good basketball teams going head-to-head tomorrow.
End of FastScripts