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March 21, 2019

Dana Altman

San Jose, California

MODERATOR: We'll welcome coach Dana Altman to the dais. We'll open it up to Coach for an opening statement, and then we'll go to questions.

DANA ALTMAN: Well, I think our guys are happy to be here, and it's an opportunity to continue to play. We know we have a big challenge ahead of us. Wisconsin is a very talented team, experienced, very well coached.

So we know we're going to have to have one of our better games to give ourselves an opportunity.

MODERATOR: Questions?

Q. Dana, I asked Payton about his experience two years ago and how different it is for him being older now. Any wisdom, I guess, that you imparted on this team regarding how to go about the big tournament?
DANA ALTMAN: Every team's different. You know, this is a very inexperienced team. And with four freshmen playing a role, and Paul played a tournament game at Georgetown and then Payton's experience, and that's the only two guys that have any tournament experience at all.

So it is an inexperienced group, and we're trying to keep them calmed down a little bit. I think the biggest piece of advice is just we've played a certain way to get here. We just don't want them to try to do too much. You know, everybody gets here and they think "I gotta do something special," and we just kind of want to do what we're doing better.

But we've gotta stay true to ourselves. We've gotta try to guard, we've gotta try to rebound, and hopefully we'll score a few baskets. But the biggest fear I have is a bunch of guys that it's their first time and they're going to try to do too much.

Q. I asked some of your players about the loss of Bol Bol, and they pointed out to me that's only one example of the adversity we've faced. And this team has shown its resilience, and I wonder how that adversity has sort of impacted the growth of the team and what we'll see on the court tomorrow.
DANA ALTMAN: Well, you know, we struggled all year, you know, Louis was out the first nine, ten games recovering from knee surgery. We get him back, and Bol gets hurt. We have a couple of games, and Kenny breaks his jaw against Baylor and is out a month. And we get Kenny back, and Paul White sprains his ankle and is ineffective for three or four weeks.

It was kind of one thing after another. We're finally healthy, you know, which has really helped us, because the nine guys that are playing all have a role, and our margin for error is not great. We need all nine of them. So to be healthy at this time is the best thing.

But I think it slowed our growth. You know, not having Lou the first nine or ten games really held us back because he's a big part of our team. Anytime you lose 21 and 10, Bol was -- and he was shooting 56 percent from the field, 52 from three and was just a big part of what we were doing. He's a unique player, very talented young man.

And so we lose him, and adjustment, and then Kenny breaks his jaw, and that slowed us down a little bit more. So it just kind of seemed like it was one thing after another. But the guys were resilient. They stayed with it, and there was a lot of frustration, you know, with the team, with our coaching staff. We never could get everybody on the same page.

And when you have new players that aren't used to a coaching staff and maybe don't trust the coaching staff because they haven't been around long enough, I think it slowed our growth a great deal. But to their credit, they did a tremendous job of staying with it, and I'm really pleased with the way they've finished the year.

Q. How do you attack a player like Ethan Happ, knowing that he's as much of a threat as a passer as he is as a scorer?
DANA ALTMAN: He's got unbelievable instincts, getting the ball out of his hands quick. Anytime he sees a double coming or pressure, that ball is out of his hands quickly, and accurate, one-handed passer, you know, he gets it quick. And for a big guy to average almost five assists a game, you know, he is a unique talent, you know.

And so I don't know how we slow him down. Better coaches than I have failed, and so we're just going to have to try to contain him a little bit. They're a solid offensive team. They got three guys in double figures. They've got a number of guys that have the potential to score. And he's just a really unique player for an inside guy that just can pass the ball as quickly and as accurately as he can. Really presents a lot of problems.

Q. Coach, can you take us back to when you made the lineup change? When did it occur to you that I'm going to play four six-nine guys together, which is a little unusual? And what did you hope to get out of that? And what's been the thing you've been pleased with that lineup over the last eight games?
DANA ALTMAN: Well, it was an accident. We were at USC. We played a really bad ball game, and we were in the locker room afterwards, and I lost my composure a little bit. And the one guy in the locker room who at that time was by far the most unselfish, all about the team, was Francis Okoro.

And like I said, I was upset with them, and I just said, I'll know who's starting against UCLA on Saturday night, except for him. And we'll practice tomorrow and four other guys will distinguish themselves, but he's starting because he's all about the team and he's trying to lead.

And he's given us a big lift. I mean, his energy in practice, his energy, his unselfishness, has really given us a big lift.

And so I wish I could say it was planned and something that was well thought out, but it was an accident. But it's worked out. All that credit goes to Francis. He has been unbelievable as a freshman who reclassified. Could be a senior in high school and came in and has tried to give us leadership, has been really all about the team and really trying to help us in any way he can. He showed great maturity, and really have appreciated everything he's done for the team this year.

Q. And how was that lineup, that particular group of five guys -- why has it worked so well?
DANA ALTMAN: You know, I don't know. I think it set a good tempo for us early. We got off to decent starts with it. It's not like we've played that lineup a lot of minutes together. But it has set the tone on the boards for us. We've been a little better rebounding team with that group. And, again, Francis's energy has helped us get those ball games off to good starts.

So, you know, I don't know. It's one of those things that's just kind of lucked out and worked out for us. But I think all the credit goes to Francis because, like I said, his energy level, his passion for the game is something that's really helped this team.

Q. Dana, was that the defining moment, do you think, of this season, that speech you had at USC, and have the other guys fallen in line behind Francis, taking kind of his lead as far as team?
DANA ALTMAN: You know, I think the guys -- then we played UCLA the next game and gave up a big halftime lead. So our guys came back and really have done a much better job defensively since then. Our energy level has been a lot better in practice and in games.

So, you know, again, I'm not sure what clicked there. We came back to Eugene and had two really good games. We beat Arizona State really bad and then beat Arizona really bad at home, and our guys really played hard. We gave up 51 to Arizona State and won by 28, and gave up 46 or 47 to Arizona and won by 26.

And that really gave us some confidence. We had blown some big leads during the year, and that home series, I think, really kind of what got everybody going.

Q. Is Wisconsin a different scout for you guys, not just because of their style but the experience these guys have playing, a fifth-year big? And is it kind of different for your guys to see that style? You've played some teams that aren't quite as experienced?
DANA ALTMAN: They are a team that will grind on you. They work the ball. They don't make many mistakes. They don't turn the ball over much. It's definitely a different look than what we've seen. Both teams kind of grind it out. We're taking longer on possessions this year than we ever have. So it could be a low-scoring game. I think everybody's predicting it to be a low-scoring game just because two styles that have kind of led everybody to believe that.

So it is a different group, very experienced. I don't think -- I'm trying to remember all their guys, but they don't have any freshmen playing. They're all guys who have been around there for a while.

So they're much more experienced than we are. We both missed the tournament last year, which was upsetting to them. I'm sure it was upsetting -- it was upsetting to both of us. It's two teams that are trying to get back on track. And they've got a lot of tradition. We've started to have some tradition. They've hurt that tradition a couple times here in the last five years. So hopefully with the game out west, we'll have a little better result.

Q. Payton obviously goes to a Final Four as a freshman. He was just saying he was kind of embarrassed that the team didn't follow it up last year. To see him and all the pressure he put on himself this year, to see things click for him the last few weeks and kind of help get the team back to this level, kind of pride in him, and what was it like to see things click for him in the last few weeks and the leadership tone he set?
DANA ALTMAN: I'm really happy for him. He did put tremendous pressure on himself throughout the year. I think it did affect his play. He's a young man that works really hard and wants to be a really good player. And when he doesn't play well, it really hurts him. So he's freed himself up the last few weeks and has really played well, played really well in the conference tournament. So I hope he can continue that because it's made a tremendous difference.

But it's a fine line there between being demanding on yourself, but not putting so much pressure on yourself that it really hurts your play. And he probably crossed that line, because he's a much better player than what he's showed at times, and missed shots that -- you know, he shot 43 percent from the three last year, and this year he shot 34.

Well, he practices every day, so it wasn't that he didn't put the time in, and it wasn't that he didn't have good shots. He had some good looks. You can't aim the ball, you gotta shoot it, and he was trying to make sure they all went in, and that's just really difficult.

Q. You've mentioned kind of their plan. You guys are now playing similar style to Wisconsin in terms of possession which wasn't the case when you faced them a few years back, which you scouted. Obviously your players didn't. Is it different for you now to look at how you match up against Wisconsin? They're style is kind of the same, but you're bringing in a completely different type?
DANA ALTMAN: Not really. They're not going to change the way they play. We've altered our approach this year just because we had to. And so doesn't really -- you know, we just gotta go play the game and hopefully create some turnovers, which has been hard to do, because they've got an experienced team. They all handle the ball pretty good. And so we'll just have to play the way we play and hope we can create some turnovers. They're going to play the way they play, and I think it'll be an interesting game.

I just hope that we can score. I mean, their defensive numbers are off the chart. So it's going to be real important for us to run some good possessions. And we're going to have to hit some shots. We're going to have to hit some threes.

Q. Can you go back and talk about taking longer in possessions? Why is it? Is it because of the younger lineup?
DANA ALTMAN: We're not doing it really, you know, on purpose. It's just something that's kind of worked out that way that we haven't been able to generate any good looks early. We don't have a team that has great driving ability. We don't have a true post-up guy that we can just throw it into right away.

So some of our offensive possessions we have to manufacture some shots, and because of that it takes a little longer at times. But it wasn't anything that we necessarily planned. We were playing a little quicker when we had Bol, just because we could throw it to him and he could score pretty quickly.

But since then we've just had to play a little slower. And it's just kind of the way it worked out. It wasn't as we sat down as a coaching staff and said, hey, we need to slow this thing down. It's just that we weren't generating any shots quick in the clock, and our transition, you know, we weren't producing like we had in previous years. So it just was a little bit more of a grind.

Q. Your defense has been very good lately, and probably all season. I didn't see it much early. But it's been particularly good from the three-point line and covering outside shooters. Why do you think that is?
DANA ALTMAN: Well, with Kenny and even Francis to a certain extent, we've been able to run people off the line, because we do have some rim protection. You know, and when you got a guy at the basket, the Washington game, our last game, since it's fresh in my mind, we didn't want their three-point shooters to get going, so we were trying to run them off the line, and then Kenny was cleaning it up. He blocked four shots to start the second half and really changed the game. They were trying to drive the ball at us, and he was able to block some shots, and then we were able to push out on their three-point shooters.

So if Kenny is going, he's been a little inconsistent, but when he's on his game and going, he gives us a rim protector, and Francis is blocking a few shots now, which has helped us out.

We were really anticipating when the season started with Bol back there and Kenny, so our plan right from day one was to try to run guys off the line and keep those guys at the basket. And again, when Kenny is on his game, it gives us a different look. All right. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach.

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