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March 20, 2008

A.J. Abrams

D.J. Augustin

Rick Barnes

Justin Mason


THE MODERATOR: We have with us today from the university of Texas, A.J. Abrams, D.J. Augustin, and Justin Mason. Gentlemen, if you would, ladies and gentlemen, direct your questions towards these young men.

Q. A.J., when you watch tape, Reed, muscular guy, does he remind you've P.J. or anybody? I think Barnes had said that.
A.J. ABRAMS: Coach had made the comparison between the two. Just watching him on a film a little bit. He's a strong player, like P.J. We're going to have our hands full with him.

Q. This question is for D.J. You and some of the other guys on this team have played a lot of minutes, logged a lot of minutes this season. Depth, I know, is an issue for this team. How important might it be if you can jump out on guys and get the lead, empty out the bench, keep your feet?
D.J. AUGUSTIN: That would be a big help. We go out every night. We get a big lead on everybody. We'll take that, but we just got to go out and play hard, and whatever happens, happens. We're prepared to play as many minutes as Coach Barnes wants us to play and do what we got to do to win.

Q. I'm sure -- to any of the players. I'm sure y'all have been asked this a thousand times before this season, but how is this team able to get -- actually raise its level of play even without Kevin Durant this year, and how much motivation was it to prove the program wouldn't slip a notch?
D.J. AUGUSTIN: We worked hard. Kevin was a great player. We have to play without him this year. My teammates, they've done a great job of stepping up this year and playing bigger roles. We worked hard this summer. We didn't care about nobody else, just proving it to ourselves every night, playing hard, and that's what takes.

Q. D.J., talk about going up against a guard like D.J. Wright who is going to be your counterpart on the floor. He's a senior at a mid major program. Talk about going against other guards and the mindset you get in.
D.J. AUGUSTIN: I don't really look at individual matchups. It's going to be a great team effort. We're going to go out there and play against a great team and play hard and have more intensity than they have. That's what it's going to take.

Q. Just talk about the motivation you guys have. Austin Peay is a mid major program, Ohio Valley Conference, lot of people don't know about.
Talk about the motivation for all three about playing against a 15th seed.
JUSTIN MASON: We got to get up for every game. We know any team that's in a tournament can play, you know, they made the tournament, and we know they won their conference tournament. We know everyone in this tournament can play. We've got to make sure we can get up for every game. It's win or go home.
D.J. AUGUSTIN: Like Mase said, we've got to go out and play hard every night. They're a great team. We've got to prepare ourselves every night to play hard. That's what it's going to take. It's do or die from now on.
A.J. ABRAMS: That pretty much summed it up.

Q. A.J., you talk about how different Mason is now that he's not dragging that extra 15 pounds around like he was at the end of last year.
A.J. ABRAMS: He's changed his game a lot from last year. Not just his game, but, you know, his physical appearance. He's worked hard in the weight room, conditioned himself for this part of the season. I think it's paying off for him. He's playing a bigger role for us. We need him to score, and he's taken on the best offense exclusive player every night. He's doing a great job of it.

Q. Justin and A.J., I don't know if you heard your coach's comments about the fans here. I wonder if you feel like the crowd is going to be rooting for Austin Peay and against y'all tomorrow.
A.J. ABRAMS: They will probably be rooting against us now for what he said. That's just the coach. That's his sense of humor. That's how he gets his laughs. It's going to be a great team no matter who is yelling for us. We've got to go out and play hard and compete.

Q. This for any of you three. The team you're facing, very small team, likes to push the ball. Doesn't really have a true big man. How much has Coach Barnes talked to you guys this week about the tempo, about trying to work the ball in, taking advantage of that mismatch?
D.J. AUGUSTIN: There's going to be some mismatches. Got to take advantage of them. Defensively our big men is going to have to guard the guards. That's going -- everybody is going to have to guard somebody on the court. It's going to be a difficult matchup. Just got to play hard. That's what it's going to take.

Q. More specifically, though, for Abrams especially them being under six-five. Do you kind of salivate when you see that on the scouting report or definitely know "We got to work hard because the smaller guys are going to try to work just as hard"?
A.J. ABRAMS: It's who is going to work harder. We definitely have some bigger guys on our squad. They'll have some quickness advantages. So we'll just have to play our defensive roles, and I think we can play big and small. So we just have to go out there and, just like I said, compete and play hard.

Q. Justin, do you also see some similarities given the fact because it's a smaller lineup when you guys were playing Oklahoma State and Texas, they were going four guards. Are there some similarities in facing a smaller lineup there because there were more guards involved in those other two games?
JUSTIN MASON: There's some similarities. I think a lot of the teams in our conference play small. We faced Baylor. We faced Oklahoma State. We faced a lot of teams that played smaller, more of a four-guard lineup. That's good for us for this tournament and especially this team.

Q. D.J., I know you probably talked about this a lot, I'm kind of late to the party. Just what did you learn from Steve Nash? Was it more mental rather than skills-wise? How did it translate into what you're doing now?
D.J. AUGUSTIN: Knowing what a point guard is supposed to do on the court to get his teammates involved. Keep the game under control. That's what I try to bring to my team. My teammates do a great job of stepping up and making big place. They may my job. That's the biggest thing I took from that account.

Q. You guys weren't a team that were going to do what you guys did. As the season was going towards the end, how do you guys feel about yourselves? Were you surprised you were able to do what you did, screw what national people said, we knew we were going to be able to get to this point in?
A.J. ABRAMS: I think we have to credit our coaching staff because they got us prepared in the off-season and the preseason workouts, getting us ready to play and giving us confidence. We want to go out and prove to ourselves that we can win without Kevin Durant, and everybody worked hard. We built up a lot of chemistry throughout the summer. I think it's paying off for us right now.

Q. Just a follow-up question for A.J. You said that what your coaches were saying during the off-season to get you ready. What were they telling you in terms of motivating you and getting you ready to play?
A.J. ABRAMS: They worked with each other, just individually working on each other's game, telling us that we can play this game without Kevin Durant, and I think everybody wanted to prove them right, and, like I said, it's paying off for us right now.

Q. D.J., kind of a different kind of question, but you've gathered some acclaim for your academic achievements this year. Talk a little bit about the balancing act that goes into doing this, maybe a deep tournament run and all the responsibilities that you still have down in Austin.
D.J. AUGUSTIN: I mean, you know, it's going to come down to just mental. Right now it's mental. Like I said, my teammates, they help me out a lot on the court and off the court, and without them I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing, you know, and they just make my job easier. We staying together as a team and staying focused. We've got to get our eye on the prize. We've got to go out and play every night.

Q. Justin, you seem like your offensive game has really kind of taken off last few weeks. Do you feel like some defenses are overlooking you because these of two guys and Damion?
JUSTIN MASON: I don't think they're overlooking me. They got to put more attention towards those two guys because I feel like they're more offensive threat. Over the past couple of games, coaches talked to me to be a little more aggressive to help those guys up and free up some looks for them. That's what I've been doing. I've been going off my instincts. I guess that's why I've been scoring a little more.

Q. Real quick, kind a funny question, but a lot of people seem to think that Austin Peay is in Austin, Texas. Do you guys have any of that confusion at all? Anyone ask you guys when you're getting ready to play Austin Peay, does that school happen to be in Austin? Just a school no one in Austin heard about? Anything like that?
A.J. ABRAMS: No. We knew they were from Tennessee, but I think some people have been asked, "Are they a small school in Austin?" They're from Tennessee. They're pretty good school. They wouldn't be here if they're not a good team. They're going to play hard, and we've got to play hard, too.

Q. This is for A.J. and D.J. Do you guys put it on your shoulders right now at this time of the year?
D.J. AUGUSTIN: It's a team effort, you know. We got to go out there and play the team. Everybody has different roles, different jobs on the team, you know, and if everybody completes their job and does their job, you know, we could go far in this tournament. That's what it's about. That's what we're going out every night playing as a team and trying to execute everything we have to do.
A.J. ABRAMS: Like D.J. says, it's a team effort. I think D.J. and myself will get a lot of attention, but that's where Mase and Damon come in and step up and play big roles for us and Connor. Like D.J said, a team effort and got to go out and compete.

Q. D.J. what did you learn from last year's tournament experience, and how much different do you think your game is now versus maybe this time a year ago when you got to the tournament?
D.J. AUGUSTIN: Last year, you know, we was kind of just, if you want to say, in the tournament. Just happy to be there. This year we feel like we're here, now we got to take advantage of it. And I know all my teammates we're on the same page and level. We know we're trying to get and we're going to go out and play every night. Like A.J. said, compete. That's the biggest thing about this tournament. You've got to compete every night.

Q. For any of the players, Rick said after last week he thought the silver lining a little bit of Gary being out was getting some time for Lexi and Dexter Pittman. Could you see some improvement there in them?
A.J. ABRAMS: Definitely with Lex and Dex stepping up because Gary was out. They did a great job, the whole tournament actually, and just being more aggressive on the offensive end and where we need them most is for rebounding on the defensive end. They show that they can do it. It's got to be they can do it consistently. I think we're finding out they can.
THE MODERATOR: Anyone else? Gentlemen, we appreciate you very much. Best of luck to you. Great to have you here.
We have with us Texas Head Coach, Rick Barnes. Coach, if you would some opening comments before questions.
COACH BARNES: Well, I don't think I've ever made an opening comment, but I would like to make one and simply say if any way with what I've said the other day offended anybody, I want to apologize and simply say that we're looking forward to being here in Little Rock and excited about this tournament, and any questions?

Q. Rick, when you watch tape, you say Reed reminded you of P.J. and, if he did, how?
COACH BARNES: Just very -- knows how to position himself. Has a great feel, does a great job of getting the defense on his back, does a really nice job of getting people up, walking them, you know, the lane away from the basket, creating a space for himself. When he gets the ball having a great knack for knowing where his defender is.

Q. Guard play so important in this tournament, how much of it is trying to keep guys from doing too much, trying to extend themselves too much on the court?
COACH BARNES: What you really want is for your players to do what they've done to get you to this point. We've obviously have relied on our guards to do a lot for us all year, and we like to think now that we've played enough basketball, we've played enough games that they understand what we have to do and throughout the game they're going to have to make some adjustments, and you hope that that experience that they got to this point can help them do that. And I just want the see our -- not just our guards but everyone come out and just really do their job and play the roles they played up to this point.

Q. Coach, when you see a scouting report and you see Austin Peay has no player really bigger than six-six, does that kind make you salivate, or do you worry because they're a quick team?
COACH BARNES: Obviously we worry about it, because the last part of the season we played against teams that more or less would put four guards on the floor, and by doing that, you know, we have to be able to sometimes size down that way. And we like our bench, but it puts some pressure on your post guys playing away from the basket, doing some of those things and -- but you just have to be able to adjust to it. And we realize again one, this team is an extremely well-coached team, and we know that they will look to take advantage of their -- maybe you want to call it lack of size but their quickness. I'll sure they'll take advantage of that, look to drive the basketball, and again they do a really good job.
We know from our own experience having a guy like P.J. Tucker how much problems he created for other teams oftentimes that were bigger. We've got a challenge in terms of being able to guard them in the way that they play.

Q. D.J., academic All-American. How does that type of maturity and intelligence translate in his basketball?
COACH BARNES: We really consider that award as much -- means as much to us as the two National Player of the Years that we had in Kevin Durant and T.J. Ford. That was a goal he set for himself early in the year. That's the only thing he personally said he would like to accomplish.
As a player, I don't think there's any question that he continues everyday to try to get better with his basketball IQ, just like he worked academically. He's never ever stopped trying to improve, not only physically but mentally, and he has really gotten better all year long in terms of understanding not only the role and the play of a point guard but more as teammates and how he can best get those guys involved and help those guys.
Definitely where he's improved more than anything has been the fact that his communication, his talking where he would speak up and direct things -- like today when we were working out, it was really neat hearing him as things were starting to develop talking to guys both on the offense and defensive end actually as the plays were starting to develop.
He really has improved a lot in that area.

Q. Rick, earlier on Justin drew a comparison between Baylor an Oklahoma State, kind of like what you're going to be facing tomorrow. In your mind, in your experiences, what are some of the teams that maybe you can draw a parallel with what you're going to face tomorrow and how have you fared against them?
COACH BARNES: Again, you're talking about a team, somewhat like Oklahoma State, that, you know, Oklahoma State would could spread you out and have five guys out there that all score in double-figure scoring. The balance, when you look at Austin Peay, you look at that -- the balance, the way they play, the consistency in which they play with. They know what they're looking for. They don't seem to deviate very much from how they want to play and -- anytime you play against a team that can put scorers in all five positions, it's hard to give a lot of help in different areas, and they're a very unselfish team. And so, you know, we've played against some teams all year that can do that, that can put some pressure from all five spots, and that's why it will go back from our point of view that we've got to be active and be ready to really help each other.

Q. Did you talk to the team at all about the loss to Southern Cal in the tournament last year and how that made them feel or use it as motivation in any way?
COACH BARNES: I haven't. I do think that a year ago they probably did not know what to expect, and that's something that -- you can talk about a lot of things with them, but sometimes they have to live it, and I think they understand right now probably more so than a year ago that if you're not ready to really put it out there -- thank not that they weren't -- it's just there can be no letdown mentally as well as physically, of course. But I think that in some ways a year ago that it was the first time they had walked through this experience, and I can only hope that they've learned from it and that they can -- they realize the fact that right now you worked hard to put yourself in this position, and, as all teams in this tournament, and you don't want to waste it, and you want to be able to go out and right now just give it everything that you've got.

Q. Coach, talk about what you've noticed defensively about Austin Peay. They've held their last six opponents to under 40 percent shooting.
COACH BARNES: I think they really do a good job again of helping each other. I think they do a nice job of, you know, working to contain penetration, and it seemed like to me over the last couple games, they really did a nice job of rebounding the basketball. That's how you close out a really good defensive possession where they really made efforts to go get it and limit people to one shot.

Q. Rick, basically your depth comes from your inside guys. Could you talk about where Gary is today and if maybe the play of Dexter Pittman and Lexi helped alleviate some of the serious of that situation in Kansas City.
COACH BARNES: Gary is still day-to-day. He didn't do anything with us today in terms of once we had a workout this morning. Dexter and Lexi both, as you know, gave us a lift last weekend during the conference tournament. We're going to need that from those guys. We're going to need Clint Chapman, Connor Atchley. We're going to need everybody. Those guys definitely -- if Gary is not able to go tomorrow, right now I don't know if he will or won't, it will be probably a game-time decision. But with that said, those guys have to pick up where they left off last weekend.

Q. Coach, the comments you referred to earlier in the week, does it seem kind of silly how those were taken out of context?
COACH BARNES: I'm sorry that they were, and maybe sometimes I shouldn't have -- because I understand -- I shouldn't say that. I don't understand. I'm aware of the rivalry of years ago with Arkansas and Texas in the Southwest Conference days, and I certainly understand the appreciation that Arkansas fans has for their team. And when I was asked that question, I was asked the question if my players understood it, which obviously they don't. They weren't -- what were they? -- two, three years old.
So when I answered it, I really was kidding about it and -- but I was on the phone, and maybe no one could see that or hear me laughing about it. But again, we understand, again or I do know me personally about the Southwest Conference, and I know about the stories often been told about strolling Nolan. I've talked to -- before Abe Lemons passed away, he talked about the rivalry and certainly Eddie Sutton and I are friends. I heard it from his side, and so I understand the intensity of it back then, even though I think, you know, we've all gone with them in the Southeast Conference now and us in the Big 12. A lot has passed in those 12, 13 years, whatever it's been.
Like I said, I didn't in any way want to offend anybody about it because I wouldn't do that. Because as proud as we are of our tradition at Texas, the State of Arkansas, the University of Arkansas, has that same type of pride in their teams. And again I hate that it was taken out of the way I meant it to be, and, like I said, I apologize if I offended anybody by that.

Q. Coach, what's it's like when A.J., D.J. are clicking and in sync? How unstoppable are they?
COACH BARNES: It makes it easier. From my point of view, it's fun to watch. When they start clicking and start making shots -- teams are making shots, oh, boy, it makes it easier obviously for you. People can feed off of it, get the momentum going and -- when those guys get going -- and hope right now they pick a great time to get going, but when they start shooting it, like anybody, it's hard for other people to have to play against as it is for us when other people do that to us.
THE MODERATOR: One more minute.

Q. You talked about Austin Peay's defense. I know you're a defensive-minded coach, takes great defense to win this tournament, obviously, and it seems to me like your defense doesn't get as much attention as your offense when in actuality I think from the numbers point or perspective, it looks like your team is about ready to peak. Would you say it's true at this time?
COACH BARNES: The biggest turnaround we had when we really started playing well in February was our defense. There's no question, that's what flipped it for us. When we were able to get through February with a good month, it went right back to our defense. It was our ball pressure, it was our ability to help each other when we were getting beat from pressuring the ball, and probably more importantly, it was the fact that when we came over to help, we were really making some plays, blocking some shots. I think we went through a three-game stretch where we blocked 25 shots in three games.
Right now that's what we have to rely on. I love to think that we can shoot the ball, but we know that's something that could be there, might not be there, whatever, but we have got to make sure that we bring what we do on the defensive end.

Q. A.J. was talking a few minutes ago, kind of praising the coaching staff for the way y'all motivated them during the off-season. I know conventional wisdom suggested that you lose the Player of the Year the previous year, you're going to slip a notch. How much did you motivate to show that maybe that didn't have to be the case?
COACH BARNES: Well, the one thing that we've -- we did talk about was that we all had to improve. Everyone in our program had to improve from the coaches all the way down. We had to find a way. We were going to be flexible -- year ago we were an offensive team. We knew that -- the question was just asked about the defense. We weren't sure going into this tournament a year ago because we felt we could score, but if that went away, we knew we struggled putting back to back to back defensive stops together.
So the one thing, area that we talked about we have to get better defensively, and we knew that not just one guy but everybody had to do that. We knew it was going to have a collective effort to get back to trying to be a defensive team. We really put a strong emphasis on it early in the year, and we were okay. We were making strides, and we really hit our stride come February. That's when I thought we really -- for whatever reason it clicked for us and -- without Kevin, we -- we've never talked about that. Once he left -- we had to deal with players leaving early over the last couple years and -- we never once sat down with our team and talked about how we were going to play without Kevin Durant. We didn't.
We talked about this team. We knew we were going to rely on A.J. and D.J. to score more points for us, but what we knew we needed to get and we knew Justin Mason would do what he has done for us and very much underrated player, but we knew he was going to play the role he played. And a year ago this time, Justin had put on quite a bit of weight and was really a non-factor this time of year.
Right now, hopefully if he can continue what he did last week, it gives us another weapon that -- because he's starting to kind of step out of his role a little bit on the offensive end, and we need that. But we knew we needed to get great defensive presence from our post players inside.
THE MODERATOR: One more question.

Q. Just real quick, Coach. You've addressed the comments obviously. Do you feel in any way that this has been a distraction this past week? And what's the reception that you're expecting to get when you go out on the floor?
COACH BARNES: I don't think the reception is going to be any different. I understand the rivalry, as I said, and also know this, that this tournament has always pulled for the dark jerseys. I've always known that. It's always been that way. I think that our players realize that. As they've watched this tournament unfold, it's just the way it's always been.
In a tournament like this early rounds, obviously people want to see the big upsets, the other teams win. And so when you get into this and you're a higher seeded team, you realize that you're going to have to play through that. And so again, I don't know if it's difference or not. I don't know, but I think coming in we expected -- we expected that regardless of where we would be.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Barnes, appreciate it. We're thrilled to have you here.
COACH BARNES: Thank you.

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