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March 28, 2013

Dana Altman

Arsalan Kazemi

E.J. Singler


THE MODERATOR:  Okay.  We are joined by Coach Dana Altman from the University of Oregon, and we'll ask Coach Altman to make an opening statement and then we'll take questions.  Coach?
COACH ALTMAN:  First of all, we're very excited to be here.  Team's excited.  Coaching staff.  I think our fan base is excited to be in the Sweet 16, and got a tremendous challenge ahead of us with Louisville.  Very good basketball team, very well coached, and looking forward to the challenge tomorrow night at 7:15.

Q.  Coach, could you tell us a little bit about how Arsalan came to you and how he's fit in and what kind of a teammate he's been?
COACH ALTMAN:  Well, Arsalan came to us very late.  We're on the quarter system and we don't start school until late September, and he joined us in late September.  He's meant a great deal to our team.  Obviously, the rebounding has been outstanding for him.  He's really made us a good rebounding team.
But his unselfishness and his maturity has helped our young basketball team also.  We have six freshmen on the team and his maturity and leadership, especially late in the season, has helped us.

Q.  Coach, the Cardinals' last two tournament opponents have had season highs in turnovers.  Your team has turned the ball over more than any team still in the tournament.  What precautions do you have to take against their defense?
COACH ALTMAN:  We've got to do a better job of handling the ball against them, because they are quick.  They do extend their pressure.  They do a great job at changing it up.  We're not, in three or four days, going to change the way we've played all season.  We've got to try to clean it up a little bit.
But we're going to make mistakes.  We've just got to play through those mistakes.  We've been able to overcome our turnovers in most situations.  We really had a good handle on it in January when we were probably playing our best basketball.
We had a real bad February.  We continued to turn it over.  We had two games in the NCAA tournament where we turned it over 18 times each night.  So that's going to have to‑‑ we've got to figure out what that number is that we can live with.  I'm hoping 15, 16 is a number we can hold it to.
But we're going to make mistakes.  I told the guys that, and we've just got to play through them.  And Louisville does a great job of multiplying those mistakes into a number of baskets, and we've got to do a great job at just trying to keep that number down to a manageable figure.

Q.  This being your first NCAA appearance for Oregon, with your three years in head coaching for the school, what has made this run more significant than once you started with the program?
COACH ALTMAN:  This team, I think, is excited.  E.J. is the only one who's been there four years, so it's really special for him.  Johnny Lloyd and a couple other guys, three years, but this is a team that we're still trying to get the equation right at the University of Oregon, and we're trying to figure out what it takes to compete in the Pac‑12 and on a national level.
We've had some hits and some misses, but for the most part, this is a team that has been put together to try to make us relevant, to try to get us back in the hunt.  And the guys have done that.
We'd like to continue to build our base and have a core group of guys that we can really build for the future around, and I think we've done that, especially with a few of our freshmen.
But it is a work in progress, and we've still got a lot of work to do.

Q.  Coach, obviously, you've had a distinguished career, but you're here with three coaches who have won, I think, six national titles combined.  What's it like as a coach to be here with those three guys, with Izzo and Krzyzewski and Pitino?
COACH ALTMAN:  It's exciting.  I made a number of comments about it.  Those three guys have unbelievable careers and they're all going to be Hall of Fame coaches.
It's something that those guys have accomplished what I think a lot of younger coaches would love to accomplish, and they've done it in a way that everybody in the profession has great respect for them.
So it is exciting.  But, fortunately, it's our team going out there, and our team will compete at a very high level and do a great job.
All three of those programs, because of their coaches, have great records, great traditions.  We're trying to build a tradition.  We're trying to build something that consistently competes year in, year out, and that's a big challenge for us.

Q.  Dana, a lot's been made about the seed coming in for this team.  Are you guys still riding an underdog sort of mentality, especially in the group you're pitted with here?
COACH ALTMAN:  I don't think so.  I think that we try not to overemphasize that in the first phase of the tournament.  We just said this is a four‑team tournament with Oklahoma State, ourselves, St. Louis U, and New Mexico State.  If I would have told you take away the numbers, this is a four‑team tournament for us to get to the Sweet 16, the guys would take that.  We'll take that.
And our guys block that out, and I think focused on Oklahoma State, our first round opponent, and did a great job of getting ready for that game.  I don't think too much was made about it in the locker room.  More was made about it in the press.
Right now, we just know we're playing a very talented team and one that if we don't stay focused for, for 40 minutes, they have a tendency to blow teams away.  Their last 12 games, since that five‑overtime loss to Notre Dame, the stats on those games are just unbelievable.
They've only had one game closer than ten points, and that was a five‑point win at Syracuse.  Their average victory has been 18, close to 18.  So they've had an unbelievable 12‑game stretch here.  We better focus on that, and if we do that, then we'll have a chance.

Q.  Dana, two questions, following up on the defense.  You said you can't change the way that you play in a matter of days.  But how do you prepare for this press?  Is there any way to even somewhat simulate it?  And who, of past opponents, does Louisville remind you of, if anybody?
COACH ALTMAN:  To answer the second part, no one on our schedule this year plays like they do, so that we haven't had any games to really get a look at this.
Secondly, we've made the comparison that it's almost the same situation that our football team runs into when teams are trying to get ready for them.  They play so much faster and their team speed is different.  I don't think teams can really get ready for our football team.
I've watched that the last three years.  And I don't think we can prepare for the speed of Louisville, their quickness, their guard quickness, their overall team speed, and the different looks they throw at you.  Rick does a great job of changing it up.  One time they'll have a guy on the ball; one time they won't.  They'll face guard you one time.  They just give you so many different looks to try to keep you off balance that presents a lot of challenges.
You've got to stay focused for 40 minutes.  They beat people up mentally as much as physically, because they just‑‑ if you're not focused, you make a mistake, they get those runs that they just turn a game around.
So staying focused for 40 minutes is going to be pretty tough.  Our freshmen guards at times haven't done a great job of that.  Our overall team hasn't done a great job of that.
So that's a real big challenge for us tomorrow night.

Q.  Was it tough to envision this type of success at Oregon when you came in a couple years ago?  And what did you and your staff need to do to kind of get the ball rolling?
COACH ALTMAN:  It really wasn't.  When you look at all the successful programs that we have on campus, our president, our athletic administration, Rob Mullens, they're committed to having quality programs, and they give you the opportunity, the resources to do that.
And so when we came three years ago, we didn't know how long it would take, especially sitting there with six guys on the roster.  It was maybe hard to envision that we were going to turn it very quickly.  But I've got a great staff that works awfully hard.
We're very fortunate that E.J. decided to stay and we had somebody to build around.  Very fortunate that we got Tony Woods and Arsalan and some guys to come in and help us right away.  And then our freshman class, as I mentioned, I think, has some players in it that will give us a core group to build around in the future.
But it wasn't a surprise.  I think the expectations, when you go to the University of Oregon are to try to compete and that the administration will give you the resources to try to compete.  And I'm just fortunate that we got the group of guys together that we did, because they're coachable, they work together.  They're unselfish.  And that has given us an opportunity to get better quickly.

Q.  You mentioned Tony.  He very easily could have been sitting in Louisville's locker room right now, and would you be sitting up here if he was?
COACH ALTMAN:  Nope.  Tony Woods has given us a presence inside, and I think to get this level, you got to have a presence inside.  And he didn't play particularly well the first two round games.  He got in foul trouble in both of them.  But we wouldn't have been in the tournament if he wouldn't have got us there.
So we're fortunate.  As I mentioned, E.J. Singler, Arsalan, you name any one of our starters, and Carlos Emory, you know, our top six, and Johnny, any one of those guys, we're a team.  You look at our stats and we've got a bunch of guys averaging right around ten points.  We're a team.  And you take any one of those parts away from our team, collectively we're okay, but, individually, we need each other, and Tony's a big part of that.

Q.  You turned down, I think, several chances probably to leave Creighton before you did.  What was the appeal of Oregon beyond what you said about the commitment to winning?  But then what did you need to bring in to make Oregon better?
COACH ALTMAN:  You know, I'm not sure, you know, why I decided to leave at the time I did.  Probably a lot of it, my family was grown.  My wife and I are both from Nebraska, so it was always really hard to leave Creighton with our families there.  And I was treated so well.  Bruce Rasmussen, the A. D., the president, everybody.  And they're committed to winning at Creighton.  So it was really tough to leave a great situation.
But I just felt like if I was going to make a change, I was in my 50s, it was time to make a change.  I'd taken the Arkansas job for a day but felt like this was the right time to make a move, and, fortunately, the people at Oregon have been really good to us.
I've been‑‑ in every situation that I've been fortunate to coach, the people have been great to us.  And Kansas State, Creighton, Marshall, just very fortunate.  And the people in Oregon have been unbelievable.  The staff, everyone on campus, the state, our fan base.  Been really good the last three years.
So those things have all enabled us to put things together quickly.  Got a great staff, as I mentioned, and it was just a matter of getting the right group of guys together.
But the decision to move was a tough one, but it's worked out great for Creighton, and it's worked out okay for us, and hopefully it will get better for us at Oregon.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Coach.  We'll see you tomorrow night.
THE MODERATOR:  Now we're joined by the student‑athletes from the University of Oregon, Arsalan Kazemi and E.J. Singler.

Q.  For E.J., just curious what Coach Altman has brought to the program to bring you guys up to this level.
E.J. SINGLER:  He's done an unbelievable job over the past three years he's been here.  The first two years he really didn't bring in his own guys.  He had to bring in some transfers and stuff like that.
But I think this year, it's really been his true first recruiting class, and I think that's made a huge difference.  He brought in the guys he wanted to run his offense and stuff like that.
So he's just‑‑ overall, he's just been a really, really good coach, and he's really taken Oregon basketball to the next level.

Q.  Arsalan, can you talk about your decision to transfer, how you ended up at Oregon, and how close you came to coming to Kentucky?
ARSALAN KAZEMI:  Well, I had a situation at Rice that I decided I have to transfer.  And then at the end, it end up coming to between Kentucky and Oregon.  And I just did some research on myself and Oregon was the best place for me.  And that's why I chose Oregon.

Q.  E.J., can you just describe what it's like trying to prepare for the Louisville press and is it something you guys really can prepare for in a couple of days?  Coach Altman likened it a little bit to trying to get ready for the Oregon football team.
E.J. SINGLER:  Yeah, definitely.  Obviously, Louisville is an unbelievable defensive team.  Their press really gets after you.  And, you're right, you really can't simulate their pressure in practice, but all you really can do is get ready for it, talk about it, know what you're going to have to do against it, have some break presses installed.
And that's what we've been doing this past week.  We've really been focusing in on breaking the press and being really strong with the ball and limiting our turnovers.
But, you're right, you really can't simulate the game speed of what Louisville plays at.

Q.  Arsalan, can you talk about basketball in Iran, I guess you started when you were nine, just how you got started and how well developed the sport is in your home country?
ARSALAN KAZEMI:  Well, when I started basketball, it wasn't that big in my country, but by the time that I got to age of 14, our national team started winning championship, the Asian championship, and basketball became more popular in my country and I started basketball.
My mom bought me a basketball for kind of like our Christmas, but we don't have Christmas.  It was a gift for our new year, and I just loved it.  I played it the first time.  And I played more and played more and I just fell in love with the game, and I continued playing.

Q.  E.J., when you look at the other programs in this regional, where does Oregon fit in?
E.J. SINGLER:  Obviously, the other three teams here, very historic.  You got Duke, you got Michigan State, you got Louisville.  Teams that have all won national championships, all have been here in this place that we're at a lot.
So Oregon's definitely not up to that par of just the history, but we're definitely excited we're a part of it right now.  And being able to play against teams like this, this is where we want to be.  And I feel like this is where we're supposed to be.
I think our team is ready and can't wait to play against Louisville on Friday.

Q.  E.J., I wonder if you could tell me how Arsalan fit in, both on the floor as a force on the boards and things, and as a guy, as a teammate?
E.J. SINGLER:  From the very first day, he fit in.  I can remember our first couple practices, he picked up the offense quicker than some of the guys have picked up in a year.  So he's been unbelievable for us this year both on and off the court, as a leader.  He's definitely brought this team‑‑ he's definitely a guy that puts a team together.  I can say‑‑ you could say he's the cement to our team.
So he's been unbelievable.  He's a great friend, and just really happy we could have him on our team.

Q.  For either player, there's been so much attention about Louisville's pressure defense.  What aspect of your game are they going to have the most difficulty with?
ARSALAN KAZEMI:  Well, I think they're going to have a hard time guarding our half‑court stuff.  It's just a matter of getting the ball across the court.  And they're doing it for 40 minutes.  So we're going to have some turnovers, but we just can't let that affect our attitude.  We just got to play through it and try to get the ball across the court and after that make them guard us.
E.J. SINGLER:  I think that's right.  I think our half‑court offense is really good because we have a lot of threats that can score.  We got a lot of different people that can do a lot of different things.
So we just‑‑ like Arsalan said, we just need to get it to our half‑court sets and run our stuff and we got to execute, and we're hard to guard when we do that.

Q.  Arsalan, can you talk about your adjustment when you got to Oregon about fitting in?  Was it easier than you thought it would be?  Can you just talk a little bit about that adjustment period?
ARSALAN KAZEMI:  I mean, it was hard for me, first of all.  I mean, just a city‑‑ I went from the big city to the small city.  That was a hard adjustment for me.  But the people in Eugene, Oregon, they're so lovely, and I just got engaged with them more and I met a lot of different people, and that made me feel more comfortable, and Eugene became my home.
After that, basketball‑wise, it was a new offense.  I struggled a little bit, but I think I picked up the offense really quick.  And when you picked up the offense, everything becomes so easier for you.  I think I was able to help other people to get through the offense too.

Q.  If you made it through to the Final Four, how much of a splash would it make in your country?  Are they paying any attention to this tournament?  Of course that's for Arsalan.
ARSALAN KAZEMI:  Right now, they're paying a lot of attention.  There are a couple of newspapers that they're following me pretty closely, and they write down everything that we do here, with the Oregon basketball team.
I think it's going to be a big exposure back in Iran because, first of all, I'm the first Iranian guy playing in the NCAA and the first guy that is going to make it to the Final Four.  So I think it's going to be pretty big.  Oregon, I think, is really well known in Iran right now.

Q.  E.J., when you talked about breaking down the Louisville press, how do you guys practice that?  Do you put extra bodies on the floor?  Do you do sprints?  How exactly do you go about doing that?
E.J. SINGLER:  We have put an extra guy on just to make it more difficult to break.  But there's not really a lot you can‑‑ much you can do to simulate it.  All you can do is practice it, have some plays for it to break.  But there's really nothing else you can really do.
But I think we've really gone over each and every day and focused in on it.  So hopefully that focus and extra work we put on it can help us.
THE MODERATOR:  Thanks, fellas.

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