Here’s what UConn Huskies men’s basketball players Alex Oriakhi, Jeremy Lamb and head coach Jim Calhoun had to say to the media assembled at the KFC Yum! Center before their matchup on Thursday with the Iowa State Cyclones.

2012 NCAA Men's Final FourTranscript courtesy of ASAP Sports:

Q.  For Alex, I don’t know if you’ll be guarding in most of the game, but you’ll probably have Royce White a little bit.  What kind of challenges does that represent, and how good is he?

ALEX ORIAKHI:  Well, he’s real versatile.  So I think me and Andre, we’re both going to get a shot at him.  We’re definitely going to double him because he’s obviously the best passer and big man overall.

We’re just going to try to make it as difficult as possible for him.

Q.  This is for any of you guys.  The regular season, you only get maybe two days to prepare for your team.  Does it help you guys have had extensive time to watch the game tape and prepare for Iowa State because they’re such a different team?

JEREMY LAMB:  During the regular season, sometimes we have more time to get ready for teams.  I think last year we went through the tournament, we prepared for teams in a short time.  I don’t think it helps.  I think our coaching staff really gets us prepared, good scouting report and good highlights on them so we know what to get ready for.

You could say it’s an advantage, but I think we’re ready for short time too.

Q.  Guys, do you feel like everybody’s rooting for you in this one, that everybody wants to see that UConn‑Kentucky matchup?  Have you heard that?  Do you get that feel?  How do you not overlook Iowa State with Kentucky?

ALEX ORIAKHI:  You definitely hear it from the fans.  They definitely want to see the UConn‑Kentucky matchup.  Coach tells us take it one game at a time.  We’re just trying to beat Iowa State and then play Saturday.  If we win on Saturday, we want to play again.  We just take it one step at a time, not looking too far ahead.

Q.  For Shabazz and Jeremy, could you talk about guarding three‑point shooters?  They have a lot of them, obviously they shoot a lot of them.  And you’ve struggled with it throughout the year.  What do you need to do differently?  What do you need to do better against Iowa State?

JEREMY LAMB:  In some of the regular season games, I think we didn’t work as hard to defend the three as we could.  We let people get open shots, and they were able to hit a couple, and it gave them confidence to hit more.

I think we’ve just really got to be ready to close out, no easy buckets.  They’re a great three‑point shooting team, and if we let them get open shots, they’re going to knock them down.  I think we’ve just got to work hard, talk on defense, and just be ready to contest and don’t let them get easy shots.

Q.  Alex, Royce was saying earlier today that you guys have played quite a few times.  Can you talk about your experience playing against him and his ability to pass?

ALEX ORIAKHI:  We’ve definitely played each other in AAU and the Jordan Classic.  He’s just a rushing type big man.  He can definitely handle the ball, and he can definitely pass.
It’s going to be a different look, though, from what I’m used to guarding.  It’s definitely going to be a challenge.  And it’s definitely something me and my frontcourt players are looking forward to.

THE MODERATOR:  Okay, guys.  Thank you very much.  Good luck. 

To see what UConn head coach Jim Calhoun has to say, click on the read more button below if you’re on the home page.

We’d like to welcome University of Connecticut Head Coach Jim Calhoun to the dais and open it up to the media for questions.

Q.  Jim, it seems like the word most often used with Royce White is unique by most coaches.  In your experience, how unique is he, and how did you simulate him in practice this week?

COACH CALHOUN:  We don’t have anybody who plays like him, obviously.  When you’re 6’8″, 270, 280, big, and he’s very athletic.  He has a great feel for the game.

Any guy who has put up the numbers he’s put up‑‑ offensively, rebounding, but particularly assist‑wise.  He’s a terrific, terrific passer, and fearless in many ways.  He’ll turn it over a few times, but it’s not going to dissuade him from making plays.

I think the thing he does is he makes you‑‑ you don’t want to get polarized on him and get beat.  He can help facilitate that.  So it becomes very difficult.

But he’s a heck of a basketball player.  I was talking to a pro scout today who’s seen him four or five times and just said he’s got some McHale stuff inside.  Right now I wouldn’t consider him a great shooter outside, but he just does things to help his team win.
I think Fred has done more than a masterful job of training that team, looking around for the pure point guard.  Didn’t find one, didn’t find a very talented kid who can, once again, make his team go.  164 assists, I think he has.  Bottom line is he’s a traffic terrific basketball player.  You hit it right off the head.

You can’t simulate him.  I’ll guarantee you Fred doesn’t have another one, and nobody else has the same kinds of plays.  We’ve seen him before but not quite like him.  We can see the kids that can shoot.  We’ve seen the kids that can post up, but he’s a unique basketball player.
Hard to simulate in practice.  He isolates a lot.  He brings it up full court against pressure, and he makes everybody on his team better.  He’s a handful without question.

Just to give you an idea, this morning at practice, we played four different guys on him, small, big‑‑ we tried different sets trying to figure out which way he’d try to go after us.

Q.  Jim, what do you need to do differently or better to defend the three in the game against this team?

COACH CALHOUN:  We have started defending the three in the last three or four games by running people off of the three‑point marker.  We did a good job of that until late in that game.  They were really good early.

I thought we did a good job‑‑ I’m sorry.  We played Syracuse three times.  Given the fact that Syracuse shot so great the first time they played us‑‑ I mean, just lights out from three.  Next time around, they didn’t.  And I think we’re doing a better job.

The problem we’re going to have is that we have to stay in contact with three‑point shooters, three at a time, sometimes four.  Not White as much, but we can’t probably‑‑ not probably.  We can’t then allow penetration.  The problem, when you do, you stretch yourself out on the threes.  When you run a team off with two, that’s easy.  With three, that’s okay.  With four, it’s really, really difficult.

I think that Cincinnati in our league has just proven that alone.  One of the reasons they’re here is because they can make threes.  I think this team can make threes in the volume.  When I saw 36 being shot in one game, 15 for 30 against Oklahoma.  Just mind boggling stuff, and you know that that can really get a team to start doubting its own defense.

We’ve worked very hard.  They run about six different sets, and then White does some things on his own with dribble handoffs and so on.  We’re going to have to‑‑ we keep talking about run them off the three and contain the middle.

Dribble penetration for us means an alley‑oop for Andre, Alex, whoever it may be.  Dribble penetration for them means a three because they want to suck the defense down, get you to put your foot in the paint, and the ball is going back out.

So it is unique and different, but we’ve worked very hard at it.  Like any time you get into these tournaments, when they spin those‑‑ I’ve told this to a lot of people.  If you’re a 1 or a 9, there’s a difference.  Quite frankly, it’s who you’re going to play many times that’s more important.  We’re playing a different, unique team.  We think there’s things offensively we can do against them.  Defensively, we’re going to find out if we can stop a very unique team.

You’re right, they’re attacking two things that during the year have reared its ugly head for us.  We block shots down low very well, but we haven’t taken away the kind of penetration I’d like to see.  And at a particular point in seven or eight games, we were just God awful from three.  We’ve worked hard and gotten better at it, but we’re going to be put to the ultimate test.

Q.  Coach, the past four games since you’ve come back, do you think it’s the best stretch you’ve put together maybe of the whole season?

COACH CALHOUN:  It’s hard to say that.  We come out of the Bahamas, beating a pretty good Florida State team, looks even better today.  And then we played Arkansas and Fairfield came on to win 23, 24 basketball games.  We were playing really good then.

And just getting to Florida State, which was an overtime game, with Ryan back, I would say this much.  I think in the past ten days it’s been the least interrupted with both myself and Ryan, nine, eight‑‑ that’s 11 for me.  A lot of games.  So to be together‑‑ you know, I think, when I got to practice two and a half weeks ago on a Friday, I think we’ve been as together as we’ve been.

Early in the season, we went to‑‑ in 48 hours, beat Notre Dame, broke a 29‑game win streak at Notre Dame.  Come back on that Monday from the Saturday game and beat West Virginia.  We were playing fairly well then.  I think we get caught up in playing a loot of good teams that never give us a chance to kind of get going.
Those things are all in the past.  What we were doing, this is a brand new tournament.  I think we last year were living proof of that.  And everybody says we weren’t going to make the tournament.  We were going to make the tournament before we even played the Big East tournament.  We were 21‑9.  We had great wins over Kentucky.  We had great wins over Michigan State, Wichita State‑‑ we had great wins.  We were just fine.
But after we completed the Big East tournament in incredible fashion, we were given an opportunity.  This year we had to work a lot harder, didn’t do as good a job during the season.  But then at the end, we earned a chance here.  Then all bets are off.

I think the way basketball is today, as opposed to even 2004 when we had the power team and six potential pros, Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, et cetera.  That era is gone.  The closest to it would be probably Syracuse and a Kentucky team.

My point being simply those powerhouses I don’t think exist.  That’s why it’s very difficult for a team to win those six games.  We’re starting over, fresh chance, and we have an opportunity.  We earned that opportunity.

It begins against Fred’s team and Iowa State tomorrow night at 9:20.

Q.  Can you imagine John Calipari going back to coach in the NBA?  And do you think, if a coach wins a National Championship, they’re more likely to make a move like that than if they haven’t?

COACH CALHOUN:  A couple things.  John at present rate, based upon numbers, is going in the Hall of Fame, assuming he stays in college basketball.  And if he keeps‑‑ in 1990, we got beat by Christian Laettner’s shot.  For the next nine years, we were tortured that we weren’t good because we couldn’t win a National Championship, and we were good.  Ray Allen, Donyell‑‑ we all know there’s a lot of good players at UConn.  We average 26 wins a year, the whole thing.  A lot of final eights, just couldn’t get there.

If you stick with it and you smell it enough, you’ll get it.  So I don’t think it’s a case of John winning or not winning a National Championship.  Can I imagine John going in the NBA or anything else?  Yes.  Or anything else?  Yes.  I think John very simply marches‑‑ always has, even when he was a young guy.  When he was at Pitt, marches to his own drummer, and I think that John has taken that and obviously done a very good job coaching‑wise and otherwise.

Let’s put it this way.  Maybe in your own set of mind, would you think it’s some sort of standard, because I heard a lot of years until I won a few‑‑ you know, he’s on the landscape now.  You really don’t have to look, find, and come up with a much better coach, quite frankly.  I know he has a lot of very good talent.  He does a lot with that very good talent.

My point being simply, if he feels that way, what you’re talking, that’s the difference.  I’ve never had a chance to ask him, nor would I really.  It’s going to be his choice.  He certainly can handle the players, that’s one thing.  And I’ve always said that some of our best teams are much more difficult to handle because of talent, and he’s done a remarkable job doing that.

I don’t think he has to prove anything more in college basketball if he got a very good NBA job, if that’s what he’d want to do.  I personally don’t think he has to prove anything.

Q.  Coach, I just spoke to some of your players, and the most common thing they were saying, they’re having fun.  I asked Shabazz, where does it come from, just being here?  He said it stems from you since you returned.  Has there been a change in attitude, heart, enjoyment for you?

COACH CALHOUN:  I think cantankerous is the word associated with me.  Kind of a barrel of laughs, most people would refer to me as.  Most officials do.  They really just think I’m a hell of a guy.

But I’ve always enjoyed coaching.  I’ve always enjoyed games.  But the point you make is a very good one in this sense.  I begged, I pleaded with them.  We won the National Championship, we’re not defending anything.  It’s locked away, put away.  I know we’re going to be called defending champs.  I understand that.

But I always felt this team pushed too hard, too much to try to be something it wasn’t yet.  And that’s somewhat of why we had an up and down season for us.  So I do think right now, just the way things broke, it became kind of‑‑ let’s just go get it.  We’ve got to get into the NCAA Tournament.  Here’s what we’ve got to do, and we did it.

I think they’re not chasing something now.  They’re playing basketball.  So that gets your point.

But I really felt in retrospect, looking back, especially when you’re out four weeks, looking back at your own team, they put pressure on themselves that they never really had to.  They really didn’t.  I thought they didn’t find the joy they should find in the ball.

If you’re around me and you’re a player, you’d find out I enjoy basketball.  I love it.  And I’m demanding, but I’ve never found most of my kids, be it Ray Allen or all the other kids that we’ve had, not enjoy, not every minute of it certainly, but they enjoyed the experience of playing.  And I’m not so sure this team did enjoy themselves.  I think they’re enjoying themselves now.

It’s taken quite some time for them to really get off that kick of we have to do this.  No, you’ve just got to play ball, and the rest will take care of itself.  So we’re probably in a better place.  We’ll find that out a little more tomorrow night.

Be sure to check out what Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg and his players had to say as well.

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