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March 20, 2013

Tommy Amaker

Laurent Rivard

Wesley Saunders

Christian Webster


THE MODERATOR:¬† We are joined by Harvard, Laurent Rivard, Wesley Saunders and Christian Webster.¬† Questions for our student‑athletes?

Q.  Guys, I just wanted to ask you, having gone through the travel issues that you had to get here and then to arrive here, can you talk about what affect, if any, being at altitude was for you guys when you stepped on the court for your first practice?
LAURENT RIVARD:  To be honest, we didn't feel it that much.  It was good that we got here a day early because of the snowstorm in Boston.  But practice has gone well.  We didn't feel it that much.
WESLEY SAUNDERS:  Getting in early was an advantage for us, kind of, so we could get used to altitude.  Obviously at first it was kind of something that people felt, but I think we adjusted to it pretty quickly.
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:  For me, these things really don't matter because there are a lot of teams that wish they were in this position; and for us to be in this position, I don't think the altitude or anything should affect how we play or anything else.  Just lucky to be here.

Q.  Wondering what way do you hope to surprise New Mexico?  They're a heavy favorite tomorrow.  In what way do you hope to surprise them on the court?
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:  I don't think we're looking to surprise them.  We're just going to play how we've been playing all season and focus on our identity and our roles.  That's something that we have been harping on all year.  If we play that way, I think it will be fine.  I don't think we're look at surprising them.
WESLEY SAUNDERS:  Like Christian said, I don't think we're looking to surprise them.  We just want to come out and play our game, do the things that have got us to this point all season.  Stick to our principles and values and play the way we have played all season.
LAURENT RIVARD:  Pretty much the same thing, we don't look to change anything in our game.

Q.¬† In terms of just the physical match‑ups, you guys have faced big teams before, you saw Memphis this year.¬† In your preparation for this game, what has been your impression of the size and physicality of New Mexico?
LAURENT RIVARD:  We actually haven't gone through the personnel at New Mexico yet.  We have been focusing on us, but we know in general that they're a big team.  Just like we said before, we'll play a game where we're going to box out just like we did all year and defend the interior just like we did all year.
WESLEY SAUNDERS:  We haven't gone through it that much, but we know they're big and we have matched up with big teams, Memphis and other big teams along the way.  I think we will figure that out and we will just have to adapt and adjust as we have done all season.
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:  We have played big teams all year, like Memphis, Cal, UCONN, it's something we're used to so it won't be much to adjust to.

Q.  Can you talk about the job that Chambers has done running the point for you guys and maybe if there is anything that surprised you or maybe a moment where you said, "Wow, this kid really is good!"
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:¬† Just watching him, we have been around him all year.¬† But one moment for me that sticks out is when we played against BU and he made the game‑winning shot with the time running down, the poise he had to make that shot at the end of the game.¬† He's done it all year.
For him to be the first freshman ever to be First Team All Ivy League, that says it there.  For as long as the Ivy League has been around and for him to be the first freshman that says it all there.
WESLEY SAUNDERS:  He has led the team the whole year.  He's gotten our team into the sets we need to.  He's been our floor general.  He's done everything and more that we have asked him to do, and it's crazy he can do this as a freshman coming into a new program.  Everything he picked up so quickly is great.  He's made big shots throughout the whole season and led our team in every way.  He's a great addition.  I don't know where we would be without him.
LAURENT RIVARD:¬† Same thing as they said.¬† He's been terrific all year, H hit game‑winning shots, double/doubles, 10‑plus assists.¬† He's been great, and he was our leader all year throughout the season.¬† I don't know where we would be without him.

Q.¬† Laurent, several teams are coming into this tournament with the ability to shoot the 3‑pointers, and last year we saw how it benefited the team when you got hot.¬† In your experience has it been as effective a weapon during the course of the regular season, and do you hope to make it so during this tournament?
LAURENT RIVARD:¬† Definitely.¬† If we have a good game inside, they're going to start to collapse and if we can attack them from the outside, too, it's going to be difficult to defend inside and outside.¬† Hopefully we can have a good shooting game.¬† That's something‑‑ sometimes we have good games, sometimes we have games that are more difficult on the outside but if we can play well on the perimeter that will be too our advantage.

Q.  Guys, the narrative coming out of the locker room here is how a different guy steps up every night.  You guys have your first taste of watching them on film.  Who is it that stands out for you guys on that roster?
LAURENT RIVARD:  Actually, we haven't seen film and haven't gone through the personnel of their team yet, so couldn't say.

Q.¬† Laurent, there has been a lot of Canadian‑‑ a big Canadian following here for Gonzaga and those two guys.¬† I was wondering if you had any personal experience of playing with Kelly or Kevin and what they're like.¬† Speak to Canada's progress in general with NCAA basketball.
LAURENT RIVARD:  The progress that Canada has made in the past few years has been incredible; and, yes, I had the chance to play with Kelly a few years back.  In 2009 we played on the Junior National Team together.  We went to New Zealand and the World Championship, and last summer I played with them at the senior training camp in August.  They're good kids and really good basketball players, and I hope they do really well.

Q.  This is the second year coming to the tournament.  Is it a different experience now?  Are you better acclimated, better adjusted to make a run and maybe surprise people this year?
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:  Like we said, on Selection Sunday at our press conference then, just being here last year gives us a sense of comfort.  Like Coach said, when you have a reference point to something it helps you out that much more and you feel more relaxed.
Not saying we're going to make every shot or make every right play, but I guess we will have more confidence and feel a little more relaxed, yeah.
WESLEY SAUNDERS:  I think definitely being here last year will help us out.  We won't get caught up in the moment as much I don't think.  Obviously it's still a big stage and it's different every time, but I think being here gives us a chance to just really come out and play our game and now we know what it's like to be a big stage like this and playing in front of all these people.
LAURENT RIVARD:  Last year was the first time and one thing that caught us off guard was walk out on that floor for the first time, seeing the blue NCAA logo on the floor.  We had dreamed all our lives to get there.
But now this year is the second time around and hopefully we will be calmer, have more poise; and like Christian said, we aren't going to play perfect game because we've been here before.  But hopefully it will help us control our emotions and be more relaxed on the floor.

Q.  What does it say about your program that you were able to overcome losing a couple of pretty important guys and still find your way here for the second straight year?
LAURENT RIVARD:¬† I think it's‑‑ the coaches have done a really good job building this program up in the past four or five years.¬† No matter what guys they have, they're able to build a good team that can win throughout the year.
We had some more difficult weekends or games, but overall we had a good year, and I think that's a tremendous job that the coaches have done with us.
WESLEY SAUNDERS: ¬†Definitely, the coaches have done a great job in player development and everything.¬† It also shows the perseverance of our players to want to get better in the off‑season and come back and be in a position to take advantage of any opportunity where another player might be out or injuries or who knows what will happen during the season.
It just shows that everybody has been working and the coaches have done a great job in making sure that we're prepared for anything that's happened.  It just shows our program is really growing and developing.  It's great.
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:  These guys said it all.  The coaches have done an amazing job this year.  Coach Amaker has done probably his best coaching job ever with us, and it's been an amazing year because of the year that we had and getting through that adversity.
Like you said, I think it's a testament to the coaching staff and how they kept us believing.  Also, the players, like Wes said, us showing that we are tough and getting through and persevering, like Wes said.

Q.  I know last year you guys heard from a couple of alums before your tournament game.  I'm just wondering if you heard from Jeremy or any other former players before tomorrow's game?
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:  I talked to Oliver and Keith a lot so they're definitely really happy for us and wishing us luck.  I haven't talked to Jeremy at all, but they're wishing us luck and hoping the best for us.
WESLEY SAUNDERS:  I've talked to a few alums, people talking on Twitter and stuff.  They've just wished us good luck and they want us to do well.

Q.  Last year you guys were playing with Vanderbilt in the beginning, and they had the first half that allowed them to pull away and break the game open.  What did you learn from last year's experience in terms of just being able to deal with this environment that you think is going to help you this season?
LAURENT RIVARD:¬† Hopefully tomorrow we are able to play a full forty minutes.¬† Last year against Vanderbilt, the run in the first half killed us, 10‑0 or something, in our opinion it killed us.¬† You dig a hole and it's hard to come back from that.¬† Hopefully we don't have a bad 2 minutes especially not get cold in the first half.
WESLEY SAUNDERS:  We want to come out and play a full 40.  I think that's another thing that being here last year will help us with is getting our footing and playing well, sustaining it throughout the whole game and putting together a good forty minutes.

Q.  I think that getting here this year was hard and I don't think we've really talked about that and how hard it was getting here.  I think last year we kind of took it for granted because we were in the NCAA Tournament and we made it here.  Now we realize it's not a given that we're going to get here every year because we're lucky to be here right now.
            I think we're going to take advantage of the opportunity, and I hope that shows on the court tomorrow.

Q.  Wes, being such a young team coming into already your second tournament as a sophomore, how much do you think this tournament experience is going to be for the rest of your career and the current class of sophomores going forward for the next two seasons?
WESLEY SAUNDERS:  I think it will be very important because it will just be another building block for us and another thing we can look back on and pass on to the younger players coming in and just tell them what it's going to be like.  Obviously, it's different each year so having this experience from last year and this year will be great to give them a broader perspective of what to expect when coming here.

Q.  Have you guys had any contact or any message for Corbin Miller?  I know he's gone this year, but...
LAURENT RIVARD:¬† He's on this mission, so he can't talk much.¬† But he sent is us a couple of e‑mails that Coach posted in the locker room.¬† So it's always good to have news from him.¬† He's doing well.¬† We invited his parents to come to the game tomorrow, so they are going to be here and support us.¬† But he has restrictions to how much he can write.¬† We've gotten e‑mails but‑‑ throughout the year not so much.
WESLEY SAUNDERS:¬† I hope he's doing well and doing everything he needs to do on his mission and we can't wait to get him back because he's definitely a great addition to our team and a great shooter.¬† Whenever he gets back we're going to‑‑ we will accept him back with open arms.

Q.  Obviously you haven't looked at New Mexico yet and you keep referring to playing "your game."  What are your strengths in your game?
CHRISTIAN WEBSTER:  I would say our strengths are focusing on the defense a lot.  That's one of the main things, Coach Amaker has a heavy defensive background, and that's one of the things we have focused on all year is playing our defense and getting out and running, getting up and down and getting the ball in Wesley's hands and letting him help our team and that's worked for us this year.
Getting down on defense and defending and turning that into offense, that's one of the things we really focus on.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, gentlemen.  Coach Tommy Amaker has joined us.  Questions for Coach?

Q.¬† Coach, been covering the Lobos all year and I know there is a bond somewhat between you and Coach Steve Alford with the history.¬† Your guys said they haven't watched game film on the Lobos and they just need to start with the defense.¬† Is that from the Bobby Knight ‑ Coach K. tree?
COACH AMAKER:  I think that's fair.  We built our program based on defense.  That was one of the things that we came in and wanted to instill and have a big pillar in the growth and the development of our program.  I learn that from Coach K., and I'm sure Coach K. probably learned that directly from Coach Knight.

Q.¬† When you ran into your problems with the academic thing last year, did you feel like that was a black eye for Harvard; and the follow‑up question is, could you maybe discuss the differences of trying to overcome something like that at a place‑‑ at an Ivy League place where it's such a thin line and a bigger place where you kinda keep reloading?
COACH AMAKER:¬† First of all, I think you're going to have set‑back and circumstances at any program at any college or university, certainly with the ages of the kids that we're talking about, and it wasn't certainly a basketball or an athletic deal there.¬† It was a university‑wide situation that occurred.
Very unfortunate for everyone involved and for our whole institution, but certainly you have to figure things out, move forward, adjust and adapt and that's what we have been able to do.  That's what makes the ages of these kids amazing because they can do that very easily.
We were very proud of them for accepting the responsibility and we talked about this as being an opportunity for our basketball program and for our school in general, how we're going to handle situations, because we're all going to get faced with moments that are going to be very trying.
I thought our kids were able to do that in a magnificent manner this season.

Q.  Coach, talk about the job that Chambers has done running the point as a freshman.  Seemed like a crazy thing to ask him to do and he's responded well?
COACH AMAKER:¬† He's done an amazing job.¬† I think as a first‑year player we've put the ball in his hands, asked him to be the quarterback of our basketball team and our program.¬† He looks for those moments.
If you know anything about Siyani, he's been a winner all of his life.  He's only played that one position on the basketball floor, as a point guard.
I think he relishes these opportunities.¬† He was three‑time high school state champion, he was Mr.Basketball in the state of Minnesota.¬† I think he expects those things to go well for himself, and he wants to be in the position to have that kind of impact for his team.¬† And more than anything, I thought his teammates had a great confidence in him.¬† I think that's what makes those moments special.
I can't think of a better kid in terms of what he's been able to do in the face of our situation and how he's been able to blossom and lead our team and program to where it is right now.

Q.  Coach, how much do you know about New Mexico?  And you and Steve Alford knowing each other through the years, how does it help you prepare for his tendencies and stuff like that?
COACH AMAKER:  Steve has been a winner throughout his life and certainly as an outstanding basketball player and then has been a terrific basketball coach.  I think he's one of those guys, too, that I'm not sure he's gotten enough credit for the job that he's done in everyplace that he's been as a coach.
But we recognize how good this team is.  This is an outstanding basketball team and Steve has been able to build an outstanding basketball program there with great balance.  I think when you look at their team you see balance throughout their roster.
They can score inside.  They have great size.  They have athleticism.  They shoot the ball from the perimeter.  They can score with the best of teams.  They get fouled an incredible amount of times, and I think that's one of the bigger stats you look at.  How many times they can get fouled and get to the foul line, which puts pressure on your defense.  But that comes from Steve.  That's the way that he played, smart player, you see his teams play that way and they always have a number of good shooters, which is certainly something Steve was able to bring as a player himself.

Q.  Can you talk about how you're planning to adapt to the New Mexico's size and strength inside and maybe if you're worried at all about foul trouble with your big guys?
COACH AMAKER:  Well, we are.  We always worry about that with every game that we play.  We haven't been very deep as you know, and we have a point of emphasis for not making silly fouls.  The game of basketball you're going to have mistakes and fouls and turnovers, but the silly ones are the ones you need to stay away from and I'm hopeful we can continue to do that.
Thus far this season our kids have been pretty disciplined when it comes to that.  They have great size up front, there is no question.  We have played against other teams that have had good size.  We have tried to spread the floor, use our quickness and being smaller there are advantage that we have when this comes to that.  We're hopeful that it will lead us to an area where we can shoot the ball well and have to box out very well, keep them off the backboard.  Something we haven't been very good at this season.
We're hopeful those are things we can turn around for this particular game tomorrow.

Q.  You're in Salt Lake City and you're missing a Salt Lake City kid in Corbin Miller.  Have you had contact with him throughout the year?  What's that been like?
COACH AMAKER:  Corbin, we miss him, and there is no question about it.  Every time I have a chance to communicate and email with him, believe me, I say that to him.  His family and I'm sure a lot of his family and friends will be here for our game tomorrow.  He was an outstanding player for us last year, as fate would have it we are here in his hometown, so to speak, to have an NCAA Tournament game and he's not able to be here with us.
We certainly miss him.  We're looking forward to having him back.  He's been a terrific addition to our basketball program.  He was an outstanding shooter and scorer for us last year as a freshman, and I think he's going to continue to do really, really neat things for Harvard.

Q.  Just a few minutes ago, Christian Webster called this probably your best coaching job ever.
COACH AMAKER:  Thank you.

Q.¬† Can you speak a little bit to how‑‑ the differences between this year and last year and getting to the tournament this year for the second time in a row?
COACH AMAKER:¬† You know, last year was‑‑ I think both seasons were incredibly special for us and for me, personally.¬† When we lost three years ago, I guess it was, three years ago when we lost the playoff game, two years ago lost the playoff game to Princeton, when they were able to hit the shot to beat us at the buzzer.
From that point forward, for that next year, for that team, that team was predicted and supposed to win our conference, make the NCAA Tournament and we did that and then some which was incredibly gratifying for us at Harvard.  This year we had a number of setbacks at the beginning of the year to take us out of the radar, if you will, for us to be able to be in this position.
So to do it in this manner is incredibly special as well.  I thought our kids did an amazing job of accepting who we are.  We had a saying with our team, "We may not have what we had, but we certainly have enough," and I thought that rallied our kids to understand that we're good enough to do some pretty darn good things this season.
I think that you have to have a belief and a passion and preparation and we went about that in the right way and you need to be lucky to get to this point.  I think all teams and coaches will attest that you need to have a little luck along the way to have a special year, and we certainly had our share of that, and we needed that to get to this point.
I give all the credit to our players.  I thought they were magnificent this year with the belief and the trust and all the things that are necessary to put yourself in this position when you know you have to overcome some pretty big hurdles to get to this point.

Q.¬† I was wondering, what are you hoping to accomplish between now and tip‑off tomorrow?
COACH AMAKER:  Stay healthy.  First thing.  We have seen a lot of things happen where something comes up, for whatever reason, but hopefully we can be as healthy as we can when we pitch it up.  We have an open practice here and get up and down and try to get acclimated to the environment, to the court and have our players have a little comfort level here this evening.
Certainly tomorrow we will do more tonight with our ball club in terms of giving them a scouting report and going over film.  Tomorrow is game day.  We will have a light shoot-around, if we choose to do that.  We're not sure yet.  We hope that we will get here and have a confidence about us that is necessary to be able to perform in an environment like this against an outstanding team like New Mexico.

Q.  Tommy, looping back to my original question, I do remember Kevin Stallings talking about Vanderbilt last year that when you're in a school with academics, you couldn't make as many mistakes on guys and you couldn't deal with unexpected things happening.  Is that your view versus dealing with a Big Ten or ACC?
COACH AMAKER:  You know, not at all.  We're going to always try and recruit and attract the kids that fit our institution.  That's never going to change.  We're looking for the best kid, the best player and the best student as everyone is.
We have been fortunate to have a brand and an institution to attract some incredibly special kids and I'm very proud of the kids that he have in our program, the kids that have been with us and certainly the kids that we anticipate are going to be a part of this in the future.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Coach. 

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