Oregon head coach Dana Altman and his team met with the media today in Kansas City. Here’s what the Ducks had to say about the Wolverines.
Q. Could you guys talk about how your team balance helps you particularly this time of year? To have so many options?
CASEY BENSON: I think throughout the year we’ve had different guys step up. I think that’s — the balance is key. It can be anybody’s night on any given night. Knowing that offensively when we’re moving the ball, kind of whoever has the open look is the best shot possible it’s not one certain guy, you know? That’s been key for us this year. Just gotta keep that unselfishness going.
JORDAN BELL: We’re so deep and versatile that any given night anybody can score, so I think that helps our offense because it makes the team guard every single person on the floor at all times.
Q. There is so much national attention given to Michigan’s story with what happened to their plane and their run in the Big Ten. How much have you heard about that? What do you think about what you’ve heard about what they’ve been through to get here?
JORDAN BELL: I had a friend who went to Michigan. He just transferred from there, so I’ve been watching them a lot and hearing the story about the plane crash. We have all been rooting for them to win until now because obviously we want to win. We’ve all been cheering them on. We understand that going through a thing like that can really bring a lot of heart and passion out of people, so we’ve just been rooting for them.
CASEY BENSON: Definitely what Jordan said. I think definitely an experience like that would bring you that much closer together, realizing what is important in the grand scheme of things. Definitely they have carried that since that happened into the postseason. They’re playing at a high level with a lot of confidence, so we’ve got to match the intensity.
Q. Casey, these guys don’t seem inclined to turn it over much, which would seem to make one think the transition baskets are going to be few and far between. How are you running your half court offense right now?
CASEY BENSON: We’re feeling good. Obviously, we want to focus on getting stops and getting some easy baskets offensively which will get us going more. It’s a matter of moving the ball and making plays for each other and getting the best shot possible and being patient offensively and making them guard.
Q. Jordan, can you address how the last few games with Chris out you’ve been balancing trying to be a shot-blocking presence while also trying to avoid foul trouble given you don’t have that body behind you in the post?
JORDAN BELL: I’ve been trying to do my best to stay out of foul trouble. I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that lately, me just trying to be as aggressive as I was before knowing I don’t have somebody like Chris coming in after me. But Kavell comes in and does his work. Just trying to play smarter on the defensive end and being aggressive on the offensive ending trying to get their players out of the game makes it easier for the whole team.
Q. Michigan guys were talking about a loss to Ohio State galvanized things for them. It was a turning point. Do you guys feel like it was the Colorado game, something that galvanized you guys and got you focused?
CASEY BENSON: Yeah, I think losing at UCLA was one, too. I think that was game that we felt we let slip away. We felt we played good enough to win, but some plays down the stretch, you know, kind of enabled them to obviously get the win. That was big and just regrouping and winning kind of however many we’ve won. Those were kind of some experiences.
THE MODERATOR: All right, guys, we will let you go back to the locker room. Thank you for coming and good luck. We are now joined by Oregon head Coach, Dana Altman. Welcome to Kansas City. Your thoughts coming into tomorrow’s game?
DANA ALTMAN: It’s great to still be playing. The guys have looked forward to this, and hopefully we will play well. We’re going to need to play well defensively. Michigan is a very talented, offensive team. Their defense has really picked up in their seven-game winning streak. So we know that we’re facing a very hot team, a team that is playing extremely well at this time, and it’s going to take a great effort on our guys’ part.
Q. John Beilein was talking about how because you guys are close to each other alphabetically you have often sat together at Final Fours. What’s your impression of him as a person and as a coach being around him all those years?
DANA ALTMAN: We have sat watching the Final Fours together, but I’ve got great respect for him. We played in the 2005 in the NCAA Tournament in Cleveland. I was at Creighton; he was at West Virginia, and they beat us by 2 at the buzzer, which kinda hurt. We played them a few years ago in New York, Oregon versus Michigan, and we lost a close game there.
Got a lot of respect for him as a coach, as a person. I think he’s someone that really does a great job with his team year-in, year-out, the consistency that he shows with his program. I’ve enjoyed sitting and watching the Final Four games and he’s someone that I have a great deal of respect for.
Q. Dana, following up what I was asking you about earlier, with regard to you being back in your part of the country. Obviously, you’ve had a lot of success at Oregon and been there for some time now. Going to the west coast after coaching in this part of the country as long as you did, how much of an adjustment was that for you?
DANA ALTMAN: It was a little bit of an adjustment first couple years. First eight or nine months my wife and daughter weren’t there, so it was a lot tougher, but it’s been really good. I’ve been very fortunate. Moberly, just a couple hours from here, Kansas State, Creighton and now Oregon. I’ve worked at great schools that are very serious about having good basketball programs. I’ve worked with ADs that have been very supportive, especially at Creighton and now at Oregon.
I’ve been really, really fortunate. It’s always nice to come back. It was a long time ago, Fairbury Junior College and Moberly and K-State and Creighton are all within two or three hours from here, and I did spend a lot of time here within my coaching career. But the last seven years at Oregon have been special, also.
Like I said, I have been very fortunate. It was a little bit of an adjustment early but now with the great support that we’re receiving, we hope to continue to build and have a consistent basketball program, one that challenges year-in and year-out for the Pac-12 and has a chance to play in the tournament.
Q. Coach, with that being said, do you keep any ties with K-State at all, and does your time in Kansas City remind you of your time with the Big Eight?
DANA ALTMAN: Yeah, it was the Big Eight then. That’s what you know you’re getting old, when they change of the name of the conference.
I do, though, there have been a number of close friends that I had at K-State. I was there for seven years. So, yeah, I stay in touch with a number of them and a number of them will be at the ball game tomorrow. The seven years we spent at K-State I really enjoyed, and have had some close friends that have kept in contact with for, I guess, 23, 24 years now.
Q. What’s the key to Michigan’s very low turnover rate? What can you do to get that up tomorrow?
DANA ALTMAN: They’ve got very skilled players, passing, catching, shooting the ball. Their ability to put the ball on the floor. John always has recruited very skilled basketball players, and that’s really obvious with this team. Doesn’t matter if it is the 7-footer or the 6-10 guy. They’re all capable of putting it down and bringing it down court. Passing and catching is such an underrated skill, but they do a great job.
So their low turnover rate I’m sure is an emphasis of the coaching staff, but you still have to have really good players and their skill level enables them to handle the ball and do the things they do offensively. Their principles, their concepts offensively are all geared to having four or five guys that can shoot it on the floor and keeping the floor spread. John recruits to that style. He’s always done a tremendous job with it, because they are also very highly skilled it does cut down on turnovers.
Q. Parlaying off that, if transition opportunities are limited because they’re taking care of it, how do you feel about the way we’ve been executing in the half court? Payton and Casey running the offense in the half court like they have the last couple weeks?
DANA ALTMAN: Offensively we’ve played okay. Our transition has been great. Our numbers have been off the chart! You know in the half court with the exception of the last eight minutes of the first half against Rhode Island, our ball movement, our things were pretty good. We just had a terrible eight-minute stretch there that defensively and part of the problem defensively is we turned the ball over so darn much and gave ’em layups. We’ve got to do a better job. Our guys know that. We’ve got to be sharper with our execution and make teams guard a little bit longer.
We had some quick possessions, some bad possessions that we won’t be able to get away with against Michigan. We’re going to have to play a lot better and play a lot smarter.
Q. Jordan and Casey said that they were kind of rooting for Michigan with everything they’ve been through up until this point, of course. Were you also rooting for Michigan?
DANA ALTMAN: Oh, I don’t have time to root for anybody! It is, you know, a unique story. Obviously having something like that happen really puts everything in perspective of what’s important. Sometimes we get so tied up in the season that we really believe that winning and losing is the most important thing. You do lose perspective. I’m sure that really brought them together.
But I don’t think I cheered for them. I do think it’s a great story though and how Coach Beilein says they have bonded and it’s made them much closer. That is a unique story.