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March 16, 2012

Aaron Craft

Thad Matta

Deshaun Thomas


THE MODERATOR:テつ We are joined by Ohio State student‑athletes.テつ Questions, please.

Q.テつ Aaron, can you talk about coming through the NCAA tournament a second time, what it's like to play in this, how much more valuable it is to you?
AARON CRAFT:テつ Yeah, the first time you go through it, it's kind of like a whirlwind.テつ It's the thing you dream about playing in growing up, playing in high school, following it so closely as you grow up.
This year things have kind of slowed down a little bit.テつ You understand how important every meeting becomes, how the season comes down to basically one practice and one game.
There's just a heightened sense of awareness and urgency for every practice and every game.

Q.テつ Aaron, talking about the experience you have after your freshman year, now you're going against a freshman in Kevin Pangos, can you talk about his game.テつ What are you looking at that matchup?
AARON CRAFT:テつ He's a great player.テつ He's definitely what makes their team go.テつ He's done a great job coming in and doing what he's capable of.
I don't think he tries to rush too many things.テつ One of the best things he does is shoot the ball.テつ He's always a force throughout transition and he's one of those guys you just can't leave.
It's going to be a team effort.テつ It's definitely not going to be a one‑on‑one matchup.テつ Just like all throughout the year, playing against good guards in the Big Ten, it's always been a team effort, whether it's on ball screens or hedging out on down screens, it's going to be a good matchup.

Q.テつ Deshaun, since the Michigan game, you seemed to step it up on offense, scoring 19 or more points, seven out of nine times.テつ Did you consciously do that?テつ Are you more comfortable?
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ It's more having that confidence in myself, my teammates giving me the ball in the right spot.テつ When I'm open, I was just being ready.テつ We practice every time in practice, you know, at shooting shots.
Coach says, Make 'em like you're shooting game shots.テつ My teammates have been getting me the ball and I've been knocking 'em down.

Q.テつ Aaron, in reading and hearing some of the postgame comments from you last night, didn't seem like you were real thrilled with the way you played.テつ What weren't you happy with?テつ What do you have to do better tomorrow with Gonzaga?
AARON CRAFT:テつ I think it was one of those things it's never as good as it seems, it's never as bad as it seems.テつ I think the first thing that jumped out at us was our inability to take care of the ball.テつ Turning it over 20 times is something we can't do, especially against a great team like Gonzaga tomorrow.
Just understanding, you know, we could be done, enjoying the moment.テつ I think we went out there and thought, We're going to play basketball and hope for the best.
I think we now have a feel for the tournament and what the atmosphere brings.テつ Just come in tomorrow, enjoy it, have fun, stick with each other, stay together as a team, just try to play our best basketball.

Q.テつ Did either one of you, before this game, know anything about Gonzaga?テつ Did you ever see them on TV this year?
AARON CRAFT:テつ I have.テつ I mean, they're a great basketball team.テつ They've done a great job of building that program over the last few years.テつ With the players they have, it's tough not to hear about them, whether it's through the media or just catching a game every once in a while when you're up late, especially with them playing at the times they do.
I mean, they're a great basketball team.テつ We're excited to have an opportunity to play against 'em.

Q.テつ Deshaun, I think at the beginning of the season some people knew of you.テつ As the season progressed, teams are starting to game plan for you.テつ How much tougher is it for you or have you noticed it at all with the teams paying more attention to you?
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ Yeah, uhm, they started to scout me more.テつ I mean, they know what I can do on the court from inside and out.テつ So it just make me more confidence in myself, you know, knowing when to kick it when I double‑teamed, knowing when to pass it to the open man.
So they scout me real great.テつ But now it's just for me to stay focused, you know, and just keep doing what coach tell me and listen to my teammates.

Q.テつ Aaron, what do teams need to do to prepare for you?
AARON CRAFT:テつ Me personally?テつ I don't think too much (laughter).テつ I mean, I have great players like Jared, Deshaun and Will and Lenzelle around me.テつ Some of my focus is just trying to take care of the ball.
We didn't do a great job of that yesterday.テつ But just try to take care of the ball.テつ Get a shot at the basket every time, get it to these guys in positions where they can be successful.
They're great players.テつ They do a great job screening for one another, getting themselves open.テつ Just getting them the ball on time, on target, and let them do the rest.

Q.テつ Aaron, can you talk about what you've seen from Deshaun lately, the last 10 games or so.
AARON CRAFT:テつ Yeah, I think one of the biggest things that Deshaun is doing over the past few games that isn't getting noticed as much is his defensive effort.テつ He's been doing a really good job of playing great defense, whether it's one‑on‑one in the post or getting a stance and having to guard someone on the perimeter.テつ That's something that he wasn't doing last year.
It's been awesome to see him grow as a player, as a person, on and off the floor, just coming to a better understanding of the game of basketball.テつ And understanding, you know, there is another side than just offense.テつ That's something that he's always going to have with him, just how he played in high school, AAU.テつ Just getting a full grasp of the entire game, it's been awesome to see.

Q.テつ Last year you were known as the best three‑point shooting team in the country.テつ This year, not so much.テつ How much have you noticed teams packing it in on you guys, daring you guys to shoot the three‑point shot?
AARON CRAFT:テつ Oh, you definitely notice it.テつ Anytime you lose a guy like John Diebler and David Lighty from last year, there's going to be a change.テつ I think a lot of times people focus on the negatives of losing those guys.テつ At the same time I think there's things we can do this year that that team couldn't do.
Lenzelle brings things to the table that John didn't.テつ Deshaun has grown as a player and can do some things that Dave couldn't do last year.
It's definitely been a give‑and‑take, understanding what other strengths and weaknesses are, understanding playing off one another is the best thing we can do, not trying to focus on one guy like Jared in the post.テつ We play our best basketball when we play as a team and understand that everyone is capable of scoring.
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ I mean, we lost John D.テつ He was the best shooter in the Big Ten.テつ We know teams always trying to scout us, trying to pack in because of Sullinger and me.テつ It starts in practice.テつ We gonna get them shots.テつ Coach tell me, Craft, Lenzelle, Knock it down.テつ We've been doing that well.テつ If Gonzaga do that, we're going to come in and knock down them shots with confidence.

Q.テつ Aaron, how far back does your defensive attitude go?テつ Is it something you've always had as a player?
AARON CRAFT:テつ Yeah.テつ I have an older brother.テつ I've always played around with him and his friends.テつ I was never the best offensive threat playing with older guys.テつ The one thing I could do is go out there and frustrate those guys as much as possible, get in a couple fights here and there.
It's grown on me ever since I've been growing up, throughout middle school and high school.テつ Especially last year I came in, and that's what I needed to do to help our team be successful.テつ I took that to heart and took great pride in that.テつ Knowing if I wanted to play and help this team be successful, I needed to come in and play the best defense possible.テつ It's just something I've hung my hat on.

Q.テつ Deshaun your play recently has drawn attention from other teams, from a national perspective.テつ What has that been like?テつ How have you dealt with that?
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ It really don't mean too much to me.テつ Right now I'm focused on the team and trying to get to the national championship.テつ It's a great compliment for me, but it's just another step.テつ Now it's just for me and my teammates to just get ready for Gonzaga.

Q.テつ Deshaun, Aaron was talking about your playing defense.テつ Do you like to play defense?テつ Did you like to play defense before?
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ I like playing defense now (smiling).テつ It's a game changer.テつ I get a block or a charge.テつ Last year I used to just come in the game, chuck threes.テつ I didn't care about defense.テつ I take very good pride in it now.
Watching Aaron from last year, this year, how he does in practice, I mean, he game changes on defense.テつ I was like, Hey, I want to do that.テつ So I just took a couple charges and blocks, and I take pride in it.

Q.テつ It doesn't seem like you're just chucking threes any more like you used to.テつ Have you toned that down a little bit, too?テつ Sometimes you pass.
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ Yeah, I pass now (laughter).
AARON CRAFT:テつ Yes, he does.
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ I mean, it's just that scoring mentality.テつ Coming out of high school, I had the green light, that light green, you know.テつ So now I can do more:テつ put it on the floor, pass, knock down open shots.
AARON CRAFT:テつ That's good stuff (laughter).

Q.テつ Aaron, would you like to comment on what you heard about him liking to play defense and passing the basketball?
AARON CRAFT:テつ It is something we would not have heard last year.テつ Like I said earlier, it's him growing as a player.テつ It's just great to see.テつ He's taken to heart, everything the coaches tell him, what the other players tell him, as well.テつ It's something, you know, he's been willing to work on.
He's worked really hard at it in practice in the off‑season to make himself a better all‑around player.テつ You can see the results now.テつ It's just awesome to hear him take it on himself and understand he is becoming a better all around basketball player.

Q.テつ Deshaun, what led to that defensive transformation?
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ Coach Matta.テつ He watched me in high school.テつ He always asked me, Oh, your defense.テつ I was always guarding my man, face guarding, never help side.テつ He was always on me about it.テつ Then when I got to college, whoa, he was serious about it.
I used to give up offensive rebounds, drove to the basket.テつ It was a learning process for me coming in as a scorer.テつ I always wanted to get that three ball up, get that shot.
But it was really Coach Matta who really pressured me about it.

Q.テつ West Virginia is a lot closer to your home territory than Gonzaga is.テつ Did the ease with which Gonzaga beat West Virginia last night surprise you guys?
AARON CRAFT:テつ Absolutely not.テつ I mean, Gonzaga's a great team.テつ They have a lot of weapons offensively.テつ They have great post players.テつ They have a really good skilled four.テつ They have great role players, which I think makes them a better team than a lot just because their role players understand what they need to do when they come in.
They do that job really well, whether it's playing defense or offensive rebounding, setting good screens.テつ They have a great all‑around basketball team and that showed yesterday.

Q.テつ We've talked to you after games, after losses, and you talk about practice being key to how you play on the floor.テつ How has practice been recently?テつ Has that definitely carried over into the games throughout the Big Ten tournament as well as this tournament?
AARON CRAFT:テつ The past few weeks, they've been a lot better.テつ I think throughout the year we learned, uhm, as clichテδゥ as it is, you play as you practice.テつ It was so true for our basketball team.テつ The games where we didn't play our best, we took some losses because of it, our practices leading up to those games weren't very good.
So I think just understanding the sense of urgency, understanding practice is important.テつ You can't just expect to go out and just play basketball and play games.テつ It's getting better in practice, finding a way to get better, no matter how small it is, coming in with just a great mindset, lifting up practice for everyone else, making it enjoyable and having fun with it.
DESHAUN THOMAS:テつ Yeah, like Craft said, practice is way important.テつ You got to come in and practice and treat it like a game sometimes because you treat practice as a game, you come in the game and practice as you play.テつ You got to come in and practice with a great mindset, go hard, get a sweat going, get ready for the games.

Q.テつ Just learned of your prowess in the Cosmo poll, you seem proud of the moment.
AARON CRAFT:テつ Yeah. テつCouldn't have been better timing for that to come out with our basketball team, with the jokesters we have.テつ It's something that is kind of cool.テつ How many people can say that?テつ Jared is also in the poll.テつ It's not just myself.テつ It's something that we can laugh about and have stories about after the season is over.

Q.テつ Are they really giving it to you in the room?
AARON CRAFT:テつ Yes.テつ Short answer, yes.

Q.テつ Jared said, Everyone likes a hustling white guy.
AARON CRAFT:テつ I don't know how true that is.テつ But I'll take it.
THE MODERATOR:テつ Thank you, gentlemen.
COACH MATTA:テつ Obviously to be back for our third round or fourth round, to advance, we're obviously excited and know that we've got a tremendous challenge ahead of us tomorrow with Gonzaga.
You look at their team.テつ When you're fighting a short turnaround, and this is I think going to be our fifth game in eight days, you try to draw the parallels of teams that you've played.テつ Gonzaga has a lot of similarities to several teams in the Big Ten.
Hopefully for us, as we look at film, as I said, try to draw the parallels for our players, to make it easier for them, they have a good understanding of what we're going against.
THE MODERATOR:テつ Questions for coach.

Q.テつ I asked Deshaun about if he liked to play defense.テつ He said he does now.テつ Aaron was talking about how he didn't like to play defense at all, he basically liked to chuck it up basically.テつ Can you talk about his development.
COACH MATTA:テつ I think one of the biggest things for Deshaun upon his arrival at Ohio State was getting him to understand that there were so many facets to the game of basketball that he could contribute.
His mentality was scoring.テつ We wanted to make sure that he completely understood that, you know, be it defensively, rebounding, extra passes, just even being in the right support or help position defensively.テつ You know, to his credit, he's done a tremendous job with that.
I know I've said this before, but you look at the structure of who we've played this season, and for a majority he's been very, very challenged on the defensive end of the floor.テつ A lot of times guarding their best big man, and a guy that can do multiple things from Draymond Green to John Shurna, to last night Etherly, those guys that can play inside outside.
The thing that I like, they got the first play yesterday, they faked the handoff, got the dunk.テつ It was something we had gone over in scouting and film.テつ You saw a look on his face, he was disgusted because he knew that he had made a mistake.
I've always said this, please don't take this the wrong way, that I liked about coaching David Lighty.テつ When he made a mistake, he would look to you and say, I made the mistake.テつ For Deshaun to say those things now is definitely a step in the right direction for him.

Q.テつ Can you walk us through some of your conversations with your team.テつ You had 20 turnovers last night.テつ Gonzaga pretty much pressed West Virginia the whole game, then were very aggressive man‑to‑man defense.テつ Is that something that somewhat concerns you, especially with their two younger guards?
COACH MATTA:テつ The press doesn't concern me as much as if we do what we're supposed to do to break the press.テつ That was the problem last night.テつ We got a little bit complacent against it.テつ Guys didn't go to the spots where they were supposed to go because when we did, we shot layups or wide‑open shots at the other end.
If a team wants to press us, our mentality is, please do, put two on the ball, we'll attack you at the other end, hopefully with numbers.テつ Those are things we've looked at in trying to get our guys from last night's game saying, Where are you supposed to be?テつ Why aren't you there?
Then showing them, Hey, when we are where we're supposed to be to break the press, good things happen to us.

Q.テつ Like the NFL, NCAA basketball can be a copycat league.テつ Do you foresee Sacre and them trying to be extremely physical with Jared since it's worked in the past and how do you counteract that?
COACH MATTA:テつ Yeah, I think with that, you hope if the physicality is where it is, you know, the game is called the right way.テつ I think from that standpoint, you know, with Jared, he has to have an understanding of he's going to have to move, he's going to have to be all over the place, not only score, but we're going to have to play out of the post.テつ They've shown to trap, those types of things.
We've seen every conceivable defense this year that we can possibly see.テつ The first couple possessions we'll look and say, Okay, this is what they're going to try to do.テつ They've shown a couple counters to it.
I think Jared, the good thing about him, he's got such a great basketball mind, he knows what he has to do.

Q.テつ You said Gonzaga reminds you of some Big Ten teams.テつ Who?
COACH MATTA:テつ I think there's a lot of similarities to their transition halfcourt offense to like a Michigan State, and also Indiana with their personnel, what guys are capable of doing.テつ I could probably go down the line of everything that's going through my mind, it would take forever.テつ But those are things I think our guys understand.
You're trying to draw the parallel.テつ Even offensively they may hit you with two sets in one possession.テつ Michigan does that as well.テつ It's sustaining the defensive effort.
Defensively they're almost exact to all Big Ten teams.テつ We're a load‑the‑box conference, help from the strong side, guys are in position, that sort of thing.

Q.テつ You talked a couple questions ago about physical defense involving Jared.テつ The other thing that he's had some trouble with during the season is long defenders.テつ He has another one tomorrow in Sacre.テつ You mentioned moving him around.テつ What does Sully have to do to neutralize that length on his defender and make that matchup work for him?
COACH MATTA:テつ Well, he's got to create the space.テつ Jared doesn't mind the contact.テつ But he's got to have the ability to create some space in the low post.テつ He may be facing up, you know, playing off his front foot, screening, popping, driving, those types of things.

Q.テつ You've had a lot of experience with guys stepping it up the second half of the season, then turning pro.テつ When you see a guy like Deshaun, I think about Mike Conley who had an incredible tournament, you ended up losing him, do you permit yourself to think that at all?テつ You cannot think that?
COACH MATTA:テつ I used to when I was younger.テつ I can remember a guy make a shine, Oh, no, he's going pro, too.テつ We need to get him out of the game (laughter).
No, honestly, at this point that doesn't really cross my mind.テつ We're locked into what we have to do to try to win the basketball game.
I will say this:テつ I don't know if there's a person happier in the world for Deshaun for the way he played last night.テつ I've seen everything he's putting into becoming a better player and now what he's getting out of it.
We need him to play great basketball for us.

Q.テつ What has Deshaun meant to you this season and can you speak to his consistency this season?
COACH MATTA:テつ Deshaun has been one of our most consistent players throughout the, however many games we played, 35 games.テつ What he's brought to this team I think is, number one, the consistency.テつ Number two, I think that guys look at him and see the effort and just the commitment he's made to doing other things.
You know, last year with the team we had, I'd keep Deshaun on the gray team because he was one guy that could score and keep a scrimmage close in practice.テつ Therefore, he was kind of green light, it would carry over when he came into the game.
You look at him now, last year, he would not have made that pass out the corner yesterday to Will for a three.テつ I think it just shows how much he's bringing to the team.

Q.テつ Yesterday you had a big lead.テつ You put your subs in.テつ You had to bring your starters back in to close out the game.テつ How concerned are you against a team that has some depth, the pressure they apply, about putting your bench guys in?
COACH MATTA:テつ Yeah, well, I didn't do those guys justice, because we were a little bit disheveled.テつ Going back to Reggie's question, they weren't in the right positions and they weren't in the positions they had practiced.
We had told them where to be.テつ But this team is one that needs to do it 15 times before they can go out and execute it.
But that wasn't that concerning to me.テつ I thought our bench gave us some pretty good minutes.テつ Rav and Shannon and Sam did a really nice job for us.

Q.テつ With your background, you have a good window onto the rise of the mid‑majors.テつ Has something changed in the last 10 or 15 years that you see that have enabled schools like Butler, Gonzaga, Xavier to rise up like this?
COACH MATTA:テつ Yeah, I think one thing is the quality of player.テつ I've always said this.テつ I wouldn't consider myself the greatest recruiter.テつ I don't know if you can distinguish the difference between the 37th player in the country and the 137th player in the country.テつ In today's culture there's so many great players out there.
I think the thing you look at a Gonzaga has done is they've really established their system, they've done a great job recruiting to it.テつ They've put the pieces of the puzzle together.テつ I mean, you look at this team and you say, Well, gee, seven years ago they had this guy.テつ This guy looks like him.テつ This guy looks like him.
You know, it's funny because they asked me in the locker room, I've always viewed Gonzaga as a top‑20 program in the country because they've had the ability to sustain winning at the highest level.テつ They've dominated their conference year in, year out.テつ That's something that I think is very challenging to do.

Q.テつ What's the key for you tomorrow?
COACH MATTA:テつ You know, I think we've got to do a great job defensively because they execute well.テつ You know, you don't want to give a team like Gonzaga easy baskets.テつ Looking at last night's game against West Virginia, I don't want to speak for Coach Huggins, but it's kind of a coach's nightmare where you're getting some good shots and they're not falling, and the other team just gets rolling.テつ The more they made, the more they made.
We've got to be as sound defensively as we can.テつ Offensively we've got to do a great job of taking care of the basketball.テつ We've got to understand the good shot/great shot mentality, getting our guys to understand, Let's make them guard us, let's move the ball, let's move bodies.

Q.テつ A bit was made at times during the regular season of that last practice going into a game when it wasn't a productive one and a loss would follow.テつ Is that something throughout the year, once it became a repetitive thing, did you start to gauge the temperature of the team, the last practice before the game?
COACH MATTA:テつ Oh, yeah.テつ Most definitely.

Q.テつ If you had to rate the spirit of the team right now going into the practice you're about to have, would you say it's one that you would need going into playing against Gonzaga?
COACH MATTA:テつ Sure as hell hope so (laughter).
I told these guys early on, don't take this the wrong way, You're the worst practice team I've ever had.テつ This was back in October.テつ You know, I told them that 'cause I had to challenge them.テつ But that was kind of the youth and immaturity we had.
Obviously we got a lot better in that regard.テつ That may have been the fourth practice of the year when I said it.テつ But, you know, we value our practice time.テつ I mean, that to me we hold in the highest regard.テつ From the standpoint of we've always been a program that I wouldn't say we practice for a long, long time, but when we go, we go.テつ It's non‑stop.テつ It's as intense and competitive as it can possibly be.
That takes a mentality when you come into practice.テつ We don't like to jump‑start guys to get them ready to practice.テつ So from what I've seen today, and we've only done a couple mills and some film, they seem to have a good way about them.

Q. テつIt's been talked about so much, is it tough with the short turnaround to get those good, quality practices that you need as a coach going into a game?
COACH MATTA:テつ Yeah, it's hard.テつ But what you hope is the collective things that you've done throughout the course‑‑ and that's why I've always said, which is probably one of the most challenging things for LaQuinton Ross, he's going to be a great player at Ohio State, but he missed the meat of everything that we did, that we put in.テつ You know, you hit a certain stage where you hope a lot of things are taken for granted.
Now with this young team, I'll be honest, one of the biggest challenges we've had going into practice every day is where you had three seniors last year that had practiced a thousand times at Ohio State, those guys knew.テつ You go to a certain drill, they're saying, Okay, this is what coach wants, just do it.テつ You're building habits at that point.テつ With the youthfulness of these guys, we've had to kind of restructure all the habits and get them to do that.
To their credit, they've done a very, very good job.テつ We don't always have great practices, but that's something that we're striving for.

Q.テつ After the way you played the last two weeks, we did our stories that maybe this team was over the hump of this up‑and‑down rollercoaster February.テつ You said you were keeping both eyes peeled just in case.テつ That said, how surprised were you with the way you played last night in the first game of a one‑and‑done situation?テつ Do you think now you might be over it given the fact your opponents are only going to be going up in stature?
COACH MATTA:テつ Right.テつ Well, I think this, and I think I said it after the game, going back to the hotel last night, re‑watching the game.テつ We did some good things last night.テつ We didn't sustain it to the level we needed to.テつ That was probably I think what left the taste in our mouths of we've always talked about that consistency, we'll take consistency over greatness.テつ We just didn't have enough of that.

Q.テつ A little unrelated to the game.テつ Greg Oden was released yesterday.テつ Do you still keep in contact with him, have any advice for him during this time period in his life?
COACH MATTA:テつ Well, I do keep in contact with Greg.テつ I haven't talked to him since yesterday.
The hard part is all you want Greg to do is get healthy.テつ It's been maybe one of the most unfortunate things.テつ I still say, you know, he led us to the national championship game with one hand.テつ When he left Ohio State, I felt like he was going to be one of the better NBA centers of all time.テつ At 19 years old, he left us.
He's had what I'd consider a bad run of luck.テつ Hopefully for his sake, he can get healthy and keep his spirits up.テつ Because Greg is a prideful kid.テつ I know that he loved the game of basketball and wants to play again.
THE MODERATOR:テつ Thank you, coach.
COACH MATTA:テつ Thank you.

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