THE MODERATOR: We have Coach Nate Oats.
Q. The million dollar question, how do you begin to slow down Deandre?
NATE OATS: That is a million dollar question. Everybody in the PAC 12 hasn't figured it out. So I've got a few friends that coach there, I've talked to them. He's definitely the No. 1 pick in the draft from what everybody is saying. You can see it when you watch film. He's 7-1, 260 and moves like a guard.
It's not going to be that easy. I think you have to limit his touches as much as possible. When he does get it you can't play one-on-one. There's some pretty good bigs in our league, but we've just told our guys, If he gets it, you're going to just have to guard him. That's not going to work with him. You're going to have to double, and pick your poison on who and where you double on. You've got to play hard.
I told our guys, it gets to this time of year, you ain't getting an easy team. You're going to play a team with some players.
We're going to have to figure it out. We're going to play a little bit harder than them and figure it out. We've got option A, B, C, and D, and we'll see what's working the best.
Q. Earlier Coach Cal was asked if he watched any video of Arizona. His answer and his response was, I haven't watched it yet because UB is a great team. And if you've seen film on them you'd know that. A, what does that say about what you think your chances are against Arizona; and B, how nice is it to hear what Coach Calipari said about your program?
OATS: When we played at Kentucky, my last year as the assistant, and Bobby was the head coach, and we were up on them in the half, and then played them pretty tough. After the game I actually talked to Cal a little bit, he was super complimentary of how hard we played. I know he said let's bring you down every year. That hasn't happened.
But I do respect the fact that he will be humble enough to talk about our program that way. We played them tough the only time we played them.
I don't know if he's actually watched us, but he gave the right answer on that, not assume anybody is going to win. My guess is they're putting a little bit more time in Arizona than us. It was nice he said that.
We have a shot. We're going to have to do some stuff right. We're going to have to make some shots. Their depth is not quite as good as ours. And we're 5th in the country in possession length on offense. So it's not like we've got to do something we don't do. We're going to speed them up. We've been speeding people up all year.
We're going to play our game and tweak a few things. There's no Deandre Ayton on our schedule. So we have to change a few things to deal with him. But other than that, we don't have to change who we are. Who we are is more than capable of beating them. I think people know that. I think that's why a guy like Jay Bilas talked about this might be the best four seed in the history of four seeds. And putting them at a 4 doesn't necessarily screw them; it screws their opponent. Because know we've got a chance to win some games.
I still think we've got a chance, too. Earlier in the season we went to the NCAA tournament two years in a row, we didn't make it last year. We talk about getting to the tournament and then winning some games. If you're a 12, if you want to get to the second weekend you have to beat a 5 and a 4. If you're a 13, you got to beat a 4 then a 5. It is what it is. You're are going to have to play some good teams.
I think we'll be ready to go tomorrow night.
Q. You said before when the matches came out that you were going to exchange some scouting reports with Bobby Hurley. How much have you talked to him?
OATS: A few times. They played them pretty tough. They didn't get either win. I think they showed enough stretches in there what they wanted to do. You always know what you want to do against a team. Sometimes it's a little easier said than done.
But I definitely -- I saw both their games live. They're on the West Coast, and you're up late, 11 o'clock, all of a sudden their game is on and you get to watch them. I watched both their Arizona games live. I watched their second one.
There's no secrets here. Deandre Ayton is a force to deal with, but they've got Trier. He's a pro, too. Rawle Alkins is a pro. Ristic might be a pro. They've got two 7-footers, you're not dealing with just one.
I do think that Bobby was on to some things when they played the. They play similar to us. I read somewhere Sean Miller talked about us kind of playing like them. So they kind of know we're going to spread it like Arizona State did, but it was successful for Arizona State at stretches in the game. We have to do a better job than they did at some of the things they didn't do so well on.
Q. I've been asking some of the teams why should the people of Boise get behind your team. Your guys said it's because they fight really hard, they play really hard, but they also look really good doing it, because they've got a lot of good looking guys on the team.
OATS: Perkins takes a million selfies a day. I'm sure that's what he said when you asked him about that.
The reason they should get behind us is we play together. We don't play isolation basketball, and it's fun. And I think teams want to cheer for the underdog.
So you're seeing Deandre, you don't see too many of those guys in college basketball now. Our group is a fun group. They love playing with each other. They're a fun group. They legitimately want their teammates to do well. CJ struggled in the MAC tournament, he said I'm going to do something to make sure we win this game. And he came up with some big rebounds. When somebody gets going, they start cheering for them.
And guys on the bench that don't play a lot that really could play on a lot of teams really pull for the guys that are in there. Nick had to get himself calmed down in the MAC championship. We had Brock Bertram, who hasn't played a whole lot, but a really good big that could be playing a lot in a lot of places, getting in Nick's ear, getting him right. Guys that genuinely want each other to do well. And it's fun to pull for a group like that.
Q. Your guys have talked a lot this week about not having a lot of pressure on them, which is different from how it was during regular season in the tournament when you were favorites for much of the year to win the conference tournament. How do you change that mindset, expecting to win the MAC championship to saying we don't have any pressure on us and hopefully come out with a win?
OATS: We started the conference, knowing our people were writing about guys running the table. And I tried to slow them down. Let them know we've been in the conference a long time, it's hard to win road games here. It was a bit of a wake-up call. We dropped 3 out of 7. Ever since we started, there's been pressure on them, but it's a disappointment if we weren't winning by double digits.
It might be a relief, finally someone else is picked. It might be the first game in 20-plus games where we weren't supposed to be the winner. It might be nice coming in as the underdog and play with a little bit more freedom, so to speak.
But there is still pressure on us. Because we talked early in the year, we've been to this tournament twice in the last three years. This is the third time in four now. It's time to start getting some wins. We've been here, done that, got the participation trophy deal.
There's still some pressure to come in here and not just play well, because we played well the last two times. It was one or two possessions in the last minute both times we were here. At least I feel a little bit of pressure that we need to get a win. I don't think it's bad to have a little bit of pressure.
Now, it's a different kind of pressure than it's been for the last 20-some-odd games, though, you're right.
Q. Could you describe your relationship a little bit in detail. We know about Wes Clark and your history with him, but also that trust you have in him and what it's brought your team.
OATS: Everybody knows I coached the kid in high school. I love the kid to death. He's competitive and a warrior. He's got plenty of stories from high school we could talk for an hour about. We brought him in here and I told everybody bringing him in, my assistants, administration, when we talked about bringing him in, why should you bring him in, you talk about the positives. He obviously had some stuff going at Missouri. I knew him well enough and trusted him well enough. And he's been unbelievably great since walking on the campus.
He's been in the program going on a year and a half, he came at the semester and he had to sit a whole year. So he played with our guys all last year, from January on all this year until he got eligible in December. So it's not like we just threw a kid they didn't know. They knew him well. He had been kind of dominating them on the scout team for a year now. And finally when he got moved over off the scout team with them they were like, yeah, come on, come play with us so we don't have to guard you every day in practice.
He's a great kid. He's not one of those -- he knows he's really good. He's got a lot of confidence, he's got swagger to him. But he's not arrogant. He's not all about me. He's all about winning is what he's all about. It's easy to throw a kid that's all about winning in a team that's all about winning. Davonta Jordan has done an unbelievable job but he's a winner more than anything.
So you throw him in with a group like that, and it works pretty well. So it kind of seems like it was real seamless, throw him in, and we played well and kept this thing rolling. But there's a lot of work, a lot of friendships built, a lot of camaraderie built over the last year before he actually got to play in a game.
Q. What effect did bringing in Coach Hodgson have, as far as recruiting and things like that, and having a guy like that to bring in the talented players that you've been able to do?
OATS: Caruthers played for him at Midland, Jeremy Harris, who's been pretty dang good, Montell McRae has been great for us, Blake Hamilton was pretty good, got us to the tournament our first year, Willie Conner, Davonta Jordan, all that stuff that we went national with recruiting and a lot of that's him.
As far as what the roster looks like, he's been like super big, just integral. He's a great guy, if you get to know him well, he's personable, and doesn't have a big ego. He works hard at building relationships. He had been working hard at building them. He's a western New York guy. So to have a western New York guy on staff, he's all Bills everything. And all the annoying Bills fans.
But it's easy to sell western New York and Buffalo when you're from there, and he's been doing an unbelievable job for three years. I'm becoming a Bills fan. I grew up in Wisconsin, so you have to be a Packer fan. You can never leave that. But the whole Bills mafia thing is growing on me. They made the playoffs this year.
Most of that is Bryan. If he can sell me on the Bills, he can probably sell recruits on Buffalo Bulls basketball, too.
Q. You brought up Bills fans. Any chance we see any Bulls fans going through tables in the parking lot tomorrow?
OATS: They didn't ban selling folding tables out here in Boise for the deal? If we get the win I'm sure somebody is going to dive through a folding table after the game.
Q. Bills just signed quarterback AJ McCarron, it was just announced. Is that the good move? Is that the veteran or do they need to draft a guy still?
OATS: They have to draft somebody. They need options. AJ can be one. They need to have a quarterback battle through the entire preseason unless somebody earns it, that's my opinion. Not that I know anything about football.
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome the student-athletes from University of Buffalo: CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Wes Clark.
Q. Million dollar question, how do you begin to slow down an athlete like Deandre?
WES CLARK: Focus on making the catches hard, making him work for everything. We know he's a force, one of the best players in the country. But we're not going to let that deter us from what we're trying to do, where we're trying to get.
Q. You guys played in this tournament two years ago when you guys went to Providence. Last year you didn't make the tournament. How gratifying is it to be back here and how much did you learn from the first time around?
CJ MASSINBURG: It was definitely an honor getting back to this tournament. When you begin the season you've got one goal in mind, two goals, actually, winning the conference tournament, and the second goal, which is more tournament, is getting to this tournament and trying to get some wins.
We came up short last year, but that made us more hungry to get here this year.
NICK PERKINS: Pretty much what C.J. said. We came up short last year, and we worked our butt off all summer and all spring to get back here, and now we're here.
Q. How are you embracing that underdog role, given the task at hand?
WES CLARK: I think the No. 1 thing we're doing is just trying to focus on playing one play at a time. We're used to being the guys with the targets on our back. So for us to go out and hunt one time is fun.
CJ MASSINBURG: Definitely. One thing that is circulating in the locker room is we don't have any pressure on us, we're not expected to win the game. So we don't have anything to lose. So we're not going out there with a bunch of pressure like we have to beat this team. We're going to go out there and give our all. It's March so upsets happen.
NICK PERKINS: To be honest, I wouldn't even call it an upset. We're supposed to be here. We were winning all year, winning at a high level. We're supposed to be here. It didn't surprise us. We're supposed to be in this game. I think it would be great for us if we win. It is what it is.
But we're planning to win. We're ain't here to just say we got here; we are trying to win the game.
Q. You've known Nate for a long time, you played for him in high school. Describe the man he is and the type of leader he is for this program.
WES CLARK: Very confident, man, and a team coach. I've had some coaches where you felt a disconnect from the coach and the players. Our coach does a great job connecting all the players. I don't know one guy on the team that he doesn't have a great bond with.
Just to have that family figure around and that type of effect is a different type of game. A different type of coach and a different type of team.
Q. Buffalo sports fans are sometimes known to be a little crazy, especially Bills fans. Is there any crossover with your fans? And if so, will we see some fun fans here in Boise?
WES CLARK: Our fans are great. I think they're the same, the Buffalo Bills fans and the Bulls fans. I can't say they will be any different. They'll be out and go hard just for us like they are in Buffalo.
CJ MASSINBURG: We definitely have the greatest fans in the NCAA. We have one guy, we have a student section called True Blue. We have one guys that comes in Speedos and is naked all the whole game. He's called you be naked. He wears a cape. He shows personality to our fans and stuff and we appreciate him.
Q. Whichever one is the best politician, there will be a ton of neutral fans in the arena tomorrow. What would be the pitch to Boise to get behind Buffalo? What stands out in your program and your team that people may like?
CJ MASSINBURG: Just to the neutral fans, you know, everybody likes, I won't say a Cinderella story, but people like to root for the underdogs.
Neutral fans, we are hard-nosed, fierce competitors, don't back down to anybody type of guys, hey, root for us. You'll see what we bring to the table. We're very easy to cheer for.
WES CLARK: We have a great group of guys. A lot of guys that's handsome, you'll enjoy coming to watch us. We play hard, we're going to fight, we're also nice at the same time.