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March 21, 2008

Keith Benjamin

Jamie Dixon

Ronald Ramon


THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Pittsburgh student-athletes. We'll take questions for the student-athletes.

Q. You have four or five days to prepare for the first game. What is the biggest challenge today, last night, tomorrow morning getting ready for that second game?
RONALD RAMON: Just making sure we stay focused. Making sure that we don't have as many days to come out and be prepared for them, as we did for the last game.
But, you know, just making sure we know the plays that they running, the things we want to do defensively, just being patient on offense.
KEITH BENJAMIN: Same things Ronald said. Just refocusing, uhm, going over your scouting reports real hard, paying attention to every little detail you could pick up. Just trying your hardest to get ready for the next night, being ready to play basketball again.

Q. We just spent about 45 minutes talking to Michigan State about how tough and physical they are, how tough and physical you are. When people label you and your program like that for years and years, does that ever almost come as a slight because they're tough and physical because they can't do X, Y and Z, other kind of skills? Or are you good with that?
KEITH BENJAMIN: I mean, we fairly good with it. Uhm, the label is just a label to us. We feel like we're tough and physical. But, uhm, we feel like this is a year that we've added a lot to just being tough and physical. We have a skill set. We have a lot of, uhm, things that we can do outside of just being tough and physical. But that's just our bread and butter. That's how we play. That's how we approach every game. We try and do the little things to help us win. The tougher physical things are the things to help us win.
RONALD RAMON: Just like he said, it started when Brandon Knight was here, Jaron, Julius Page, they went out and competed every single time. Played tough, physical basketball. We've been carrying it on since we got here. That's one of the things that coach emphasizes, going out there and playing tough.

Q. Do you think his first game that he was feeling a little bit of the nerves, and he'll have a better performance tomorrow?
RONALD RAMON: I don't think we worry about DeJuan. He's a good player, especially a team player. He's competitive. He wants to compete every single night. He know he didn't have a good game yesterday.
But, you know, he lets the game come to him. He just waits and be patient. He knows when the team needs him, he gonna show up. He's going to do the little things we need him to do, not just scoring-wise, rebounding, screening, getting guys open.
KEITH BENJAMIN: For DeJuan, it wasn't nerves. He just has to realize we're outside of the Big East Conference now. A couple of the plays that you could bang on inside our conference, you can't do that in these tournaments. You get different refs from all over the country. He got called early for a couple fouls. I think he'll bounce back from it. He's always there when we need him the most. When we play big, tough, aggressive, physical big men that we're going to play tomorrow, DeJuan always seems to show up. We're not too much worried about his first game. That game is past him and past us. He'll be ready to play tomorrow.

Q. Give your impressions of the Michigan State team and also talk about the player you're likely to be matched up with tomorrow.
KEITH BENJAMIN: My impression on them is, uhm, they're very quick, aggressive, physical team. Their guards are very quick. Their big men are tough on the inside. They do a lot of things well. They screen very well for their guards. They do a lot of things well. They have a lot of sets. That's going to be the hardest thing to get down. They run a play every time out there on the court that's not just a freestyle of basketball, they're always ready to run their sets. The guy I'll probably be matched up with tomorrow will probably be Raymar Morgan. We know he's very physical, very aggressive, leading scorer, great rebounder. I'll have to keep him off the glass, do a lot of things that a 6'2", 6'7" guy shouldn't be able to but I'm going to have to get it done. My team is looking for me to step up to the challenge and I'm ready to step up to the challenge.
RONALD RAMON: I think Michigan State is a tough, smart, patient team. They run a key set, they run a lot of plays, a lot of offense. Their offense is mostly, you know, they rely on their guards. They always push the ball down, even on make or misses. They try to push it.
I'll be mostly guarding Drew Neitzel tomorrow. He's a player that comes off the screen, creating for guys, a lot of screens. There will be a lot of trailing the screens and just make sure our team defense is there being in the gaps.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thank you.
Joined now by Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon. We'll take questions for Coach Dixon.

Q. Coach, Tom Izzo has a great track record of advancing past the second round once he gets his team there. What do you find being the biggest challenge of that second game on a weekend?
COACH DIXON: We've gone through that before. We've been in situations like that before. Again, we just played in the Big East tournament. We had 24 hours to get ready and sometimes less.
I think obviously I have more familiarity with Big East teams and what they do. I think we've gotten a lot done and actually playing an early game and then a late game, I think we have probably a little bit more preparation and rest than what normally might be the case.
Feel good. I mean, it's a team we're familiar with because we've seen them on TV. I think that's also something that -- you know, that makes you know what they're doing and are more familiar with them. Again, a lot of the kids recruited as well.
Very familiar with their team. Once you get to this point, most teams are pretty familiar with one another because they're on national TV so much.

Q. In terms of the approach to winning, how much of your program do you see in Michigan State? Is it easier or more difficult to face a team that's like you?
COACH DIXON: Well, I mean, I think everybody knows, Coach Izzo, how much respect we have for their program, and Michigan State, friendship that I have with Coach Izzo. We've copied a lot of things that they've done over the years, plays, sets, different philosophies. You know, I don't mind saying that.
But I guess that's a sign of respect. You know, they're one of the few teams I think with us that have been to the NCAA tournament the last seven years. So we're familiar with all the things they've done.
I think we're, again, familiar with them because of that.
What was the other part?

Q. Is it easy to get your team ready to play a team that's like you or more difficult?
COACH DIXON: You know, I think they're like us in a lot of ways. Every team's different. I think their basic philosophies are the same with the rebounding and the defense. But they're different. Having a Neitzel compared to other years when they don't have a Neitzel, a guy that can shoot it for him. So they run it a lot for him, maybe not their inside guys. That's probably a little bit different.
You know, I think there's differences. But, again, once you get to this time in the NCAAs, all the teams are going to be able to rebound, they're going to be able to defend, and they're going to be good programs. I think it's exciting. I think for our guys, you know, they want to obviously keep playing like everybody else does. I think they're more familiar with the bigger names. They like playing the bigger names, the bigger conference teams, and other teams we haven't played. Obviously we've played a lot of big teams, non-conference games as well. We haven't played Michigan State. Our guys always want to play the top teams.

Q. On Wednesday I think you were kind of jokingly saying that everybody calls you physical. You said, That gets overplayed. Sometimes there's a little contact, but... The question is whether you were kidding or not, does this thing of you being physical, which seems to come up every time you get into any kind of national scene, does it get to a point where it almost takes away from the other things that your program is? Does that ever hurt you out on the recruiting trail or with players that have you in the program?
COACH DIXON: It's interesting. I do joke about it a little bit. But, I mean, it's also true. I think any team that comes from Pittsburgh and has success, coming from the Steelers, people think of them, they're always going to be known as physical, defense. So I think it's something we've had all along.
But at the same time we have been good on the defensive end. But if you look at our stats over the years, we always shoot a high field goal percentage, we're always amongst the league leaders in assists. We're amongst the league leaders in our country I think. Last year we led the country in assists to turnover ratio. So we do a lot of good things on the offensive end. Again, I think it becomes a story that kind of builds upon itself.
I would say consistently over the years that has been a strength of ours, our physicality, our defense. Again, I think all teams have to do that to be successful. I think really you have to be good and you have -- you have to be good on the defensive end to be good. I think if they're not saying it, then you're probably not winning games.
So if that's part of it, that's fine. It's more about our positioning, you know, awareness and anticipation. I think that's what makes us a good defensive team and what has made us better as the year has progressed.

Q. Tom was talking about the famous war drill. When you actually have enough players to practice, do you have anything that resembles that?
COACH DIXON: Yeah, we have. I don't know exactly their drill.

Q. Throw a ball up.
COACH DIXON: Yeah, it's kind of similar to what we have. We have called it war drill. I didn't -- I was trying to get away from that physicality, that reputation. So I just called it the two-on-two blockout drill. We used to call it the war drill. So I guess names can change everything.
But it's the same deal. It's a free-for-all. And, like I said, we got away from that drill this year with the injuries. But we brought it back once we got enough guys out there to do it.

Q. How do you define toughness in a basketball sense?
COACH DIXON: I think it comes down more to mental than physical. You hear about different things. But I look at it as a number of things. It's physicality and banging with people, not being afraid of contact.
But also just getting through adversity. I think in a lot of ways, that's where we've shown our mental toughness more so than anything this year with the things that have happened to our guys, and things that guys are playing through. We have guys playing through numerous injuries that are in addition to the three guys that are out for the season, Levance being out for eight weeks. So that's what I define as toughness. Toughness is doing everything you can defensively and doing everything right, then they hit a shot, they still score on you, they make a tough shot, and toughness to me is coming back and believing and doing it the next time with the same intensity, the same awareness, and the same commitment, coming out after you've had a setback, after they beat you, coming back and responding the next time. That's to me what toughness is.

Q. Talk just a little bit about the influence of Ben Howland on you.
COACH DIXON: You know, I mean, I always talk, first, we're really friends. Probably more so than anything, that's what we are is friends first. It goes back to, you know, we never -- I think a lot of people, when an assistant has been a coach under someone, that's all they know him as. He recruited me out of high school, when he was a struggling assistant, let's say a -- not a program that was doing very well. So I know him from that point. I know I was an assistant with him. Our families are best friends. I think of him first as that, we're friends first. That's really what I look at him as.
We went through the struggles together. We built programs together. He became the head coach, I was the assistant coach. So we kind of learned and changed completely what we did when we first got there. What we brought from Santa Barbara from Northern Arizona didn't work. We struggled. We won six games, we won eight games. We had to adjust, learn and listen, try to find what would be better. And then when we got to Pittsburgh, we had to do the same thing, because we struggled there as well initially.
That's kind of how I look at it. Again, I think the most important thing is as a friend first, a family friend. To me that's the most important thing.

Q. Tom was saying he doesn't think the game will be quite the "slugfest" we're making it out to be. Do you think it will be?
COACH DIXON: If the referees -- listen, we won't do any slugging. We'll play clean and we won't foul at all.
I think, to me, when you get down to this level, there's big bodies out there, there's bigger people out there. There's going to be stronger people. It's just going to become more of a halfcourt game in these tournament games. So it just becomes more contact in a smaller area. It's not up and down because just the caliber of play. They're not going to give up transition baskets. We're not going to give up transition baskets. And that's just the challenge that we face.
We've got to be able to play in the halfcourt once you get to this time in the NCAA tournament. You've got to be able to execute.
But I doubt they're going to back down and I know we're not going to back down. So I think that's probably been indicative of both of our programs over the years.

Q. Can you talk about what Ronald has gone through this year?
COACH DIXON: He's still playing point guard. I think he's played point all his life. You know, I think it's been talked about a lot. It's not like he's unprepared for it or hasn't done it before. His assist-to-turnover ratio for his career has been outstanding. That hasn't changed at all. I was looking forward, we've always pretty much played with two point guards on the floor at the same time, when Carl was here, Levance, Ronald, we had three point guards. They're interchangeable. We came into this year talking about our guards being interchangeable with Keith, with Bradley, Levance and Ronald could play the one, two, and sometimes the three. I think it really helped us because of the injuries and things that occurred. I think that was something that actually helped us. We had practiced for these situations for two months prior. Then when the injuries occurred, of course, we didn't want to, were unfortunate, we had guys that actually had to play the positions they played and played with each other, and the adjustment was looked I think -- I think looked to be like a monumental task to the outside, but, again, I talked about it, we had done -- we had prepared for something not quite like this, but for one guy to go down maybe for a short period of time, not four guys. Those are things you hope to prepare for.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, coach.

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