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March 26, 2016

Cori Close

Monique Billings

Nirra Fields

Jordin Canada

Bridgeport, Connecticut

Texas - 72, UCLA 64

THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with an opening statement from coach and then talk questions for the student-athletes.

COACH CLOSE: This is my least favorite opening statement. It's just hard. When have you a group of young women that you just love, adore, respect, appreciate, it's just hard to see it end. I don't care when and how, it's just hard. I just couldn't be any more proud.

I think about the things that we asked them to do on a consistent basis and it's to give to each other and to the people around them, to grow every single day, to build consistency of habits of excellence in their lives. And as a leader, I look back, and they have done all those things consistently all year long. And they have brought this program to another level.

And I'm sorry that it has to end for Nirra and for Kacy Swain, but as I told them in the locker room, they will be a huge part of where this program is going and the trajectory, and they will not be forgotten as we make those further steps forward. But I just love them, and I'm just sorry to see it end.

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. Nirra, this -- obviously, the NIT last year, and then getting this far this year, this program has taken steps up. Is it difficult for you as well to walk away knowing that tomorrow looks really bright and that you're going to be watching from a far maybe?
NIRRA FIELDS: I don't think it's difficult. I'm really happy that this program is growing. I've been here since when we weren't good, and we started from the bottom. So, to see it now propel forward, I'm very happy, and I'm very excited for the future of these young girls, because I know they're going to be a great team in the future. And happy that I was able to say I contributed to that.

Q. Jordin, first half, you guys seemed like you could get into your half court offense pretty easily. Second half, you guys offense seemed kind of stagnated. What adjustment did Texas make to help you guys get a little off balance?
JORDIN CANADA: Well, I think in the first half, we were more aggressive.

In the second half, Texas just adjusted to being more aggressive and taking us out of the sets that was working for us. So credit to them. That's all I could say was that they were more aggressive down the stretch.

Q. Jordin, the biggest part of the game was Texas' 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter. Were you surprised that your team didn't respond better at that moment as far as Texas gaining ground like that and your thoughts on that?
JORDIN CANADA: I wouldn't say surprised. I don't know how to describe it. We just didn't come out aggressive, like I said. Texas had been aggressive the whole second half, they came out on a 10-0 run, and we just couldn't match it. I wouldn't say I'm surprised. You can't really describe that feeling, but, yeah, I can't describe that.

Q. Monique, just in terms of the battle with Imani Boyette, just curious if you could take me through how you think that went and the early foul trouble, how that affected the way you were able to handle that matchup for the duration of the game.
MONIQUE BILLINGS: I would say the game plan was just to go at her early all positions, guards, posts, everyone, just go out there and cause trouble. I think we did that well.

The guards were looking for me and were able to find me and get me the ball. And I was able to hit some free throws. So I think that helped a lot.

Then on defense, I think just guarding her early, not letting her get comfortable in the low post and boxing out. I think that was just the game plan.

Q. Nirra, I know you're leaving. What has this whole NCAA Tournament meant to you?
NIRRA FIELDS: Wow, that's a great question. It's a experience. Something that I'll never take for granted. I'll never forget. You only get to go to college for four years, and you only do that once. And being in this tournament means everything to me.

I learned a lot that I can use to apply to my future career and definitely, won't forget my teammates and the experience that I had with them. But everything about this tournament, the good and the bad, I'll take with me and kind of just cherish that.

THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you. Take questions for coach.

Q. Negative question and then a positive question.
COACH CLOSE: Start with the negative.

Q. Yes, I was going to, then finish on a high note. What was it like watching that fourth quarter, especially the start of it, when you didn't really have an answer for it. And then on the other side, the positive side, do you take -- come away from this, have you a very young team. Is this a learning experience or is this just a real downer right now?
COACH CLOSE: Well, I think to answer your first question, it was just really difficult. The difference was rebounding. I think we were plus five in the first half, and we were really minus 11 in the second half. They ended up plus six for the game. I thought that was the difference. Because even when we were getting stops, we were having to take such harder shots. They're a good defensive team. We knew that. If we let them set their defense every time, that was going to be to their advantage. They could switch all those screens, they could try to keep us in front, make us shoot jump shots.

Whereas, when we got stops, and rebound, we were able to go out and run and attack before they set that up. I really thought that was the definitive part and difference in the second half. Aggression, the way Jordin talked about, but really rebounding. Because even when we forced one hard shot, which is the goal of every defensive, that we play, they were able to get second and third shot opportunities and that was the difference. It was really hard.

I think just like I said, our goal is to force one hard shot. I thought that's what they did really well down the stretch. We just couldn't free our guards up for penetration lanes or jump shots, and we weren't able to deliver in the low post on a consistent basis. They pushed us out a little farther than we wanted to.

I thought Imani really established her shot blocking and altered shots in that fourth quarter, and we only got hard shots. And conversely, we didn't get any second shot opportunities, which is how we really got ahead in the first half. It wasn't just how our first shots went, we were the ones getting second and third shot opportunities.

So it was very difficult to watch and really does come down to rebounding and our players know that and that feeds into the second part of your question is that I think it's a tremendous learning experience. Right now as a competitor it just stinks to lose. I hate it. I wanted to win this game.

Kacy Swain was going to get to play the next game. She had gotten cleared to do that, and I just really wanted that for her. I'm disappointed, I'm frustrated, I'm mad, as a competitor.

As a leader of a program, I think we will learn tremendously. I told them in the locker room, when I think back to what they let last year teach them, and what we learned from the NIT experience and how most importantly, we applied it to an off season. We got better. We did work. We put in time. And we were different. And I have no doubt that this will teach our hearts and teach our choices, and we will be different again next year.

Q. Can you talk for a second about just overall this entire season. The PAC-12 was treated with some disrespect early, they have had a lot of respect of late. But even just the whole ups and downs of going through the schedule and everything that went on with the PAC-12 season this year.
COACH CLOSE: Well, I think that Mike said it actually after their win last night, is that you're going to have teams that make deep runs in the tournament that have double digit losses because the PAC-12, he called it a meat grinder.

I think it's just prepares you so well. And not only the level of all the teams, but the different styles that we have in our conference. A lot of conferences have like a definitive style, we really have everything you can imagine. Teams that play up-and-down, teams that play zone, teams that play player to player, teams that press. There's just a whole wide range.

But I kept telling my colleagues all year long, I'm like, this is so fun. You got to grow every game or you get past up. And it made me a better coach. It's moved our players' games forward. And I just think it doesn't have to be a horn we got to toot anymore. I think the numbers and the wins have -- how we performed in the NCAA Tournament has spoken loudly.

And I'm a little bummed I let them down today, because everybody else was killing it yesterday in the Sweet 16. But I just am really thankful. I think we're keeping recruits home to the West Coast. I think we're just -- we have really good coaches, and I think we have a group of coach that's see it as bigger than themselves. We really worked collaboratively about how to move our conference forward.

A couple years ago, we met as a group before the May coach's meeting and said, hey, what are we going to do about this and what are we willing to commit to as a coaching staff, and as a whole group of coaches. And it wouldn't have happened if everyone didn't follow the plan. But everyone did and it was more important to be about the PAC-12 than just UCLA or anybody else and now it's paying dividends.

Q. Congratulations on a great season. Just to get back to what you were speaking about in terms of rebounding. With Boyette, and you were nodding when Monique was talking about just early on to get her into foul trouble. She had one rebound in the first half. Is it simply a question of the idea was to hopefully get her to the point of fouling out and that didn't end up coming to pass? Was there a change in terms of her strategy? What led to sort of her effectiveness and especially, her effectiveness with physicality while having foul trouble already.
COACH CLOSE: Well, I think they really said it right. We were the aggressor and a lot of those fouls came or one or two, one of them for sure early on is after an offensive rebound.

She didn't box us out, we got an offensive rebound, that's a very hard place to not foul. And we were up, but we were the aggressor. The way we set screens was the aggressor, the way we boxed out we were the aggressor, the way we went to the basket we were the aggressor. I mean, it was, defensively, the way we took away their first and second option, we were the aggressor.

And credit them, that they were mentally tough enough to come back, and they became the aggressors. They said, hey, they punched us in the mouth, we're ready to punch back. Obviously, I don't like it, but give credit to where credit is due, and it will bring us just a little -- another step of toughness out of us. But it really was all about aggression. Who was going to make the aggressive play first.

I thought that really key play was they went and got the rebound, I can't remember who, and then number 10 stepped in and got that steal. I thought that was a huge momentum shift. They just -- I thought Texas showed maturity. And the way that they went to their defense, they got shots that they wanted to in the half court. Couple of times they isolated Brooke McCarty on the outside and then went right down the middle, knowing we couldn't help off McCarty, and we didn't rotate quite quick enough, and they made tough shots over long players.

Kennedy Burke's got a 6'-5" wing span and that's not an easy shot. Credit them for making it and for playing the way they wanted to play down the stretch.

It will teach us -- right now it hurts too much to think about, but I know that watching that film, our players will be -- they just have a really a teachable group. And they are willing to look in the mirror, they're willing to say the hard things to each other, and we'll have to look at that, because their aggression really was the difference.

Q. You talk about a lot of things --
COACH CLOSE: What are you trying to say?

Q. What have you learned through the tournament process about your team and their DNA?
COACH CLOSE: Well it's interesting. Not one of these players have ever been through this. Nirra played a couple of minutes her freshman year, Kacy a couple of minutes, Kari. But, really, they weren't independent upon roles when we went to the NCAA Tournament last time, so it was really fun to watch them.

Like after we beat USF at home and there's a lot of excitement, and I really -- it was so fun to share with our fans. I was really curious if they had learned anything, for instance, from the PAC-12 tournament that if you get too high, there's going to be proportionate lows.

So I was really interested to watch how they came to practice. And they did, they learned, and they were hungry. My team, I hope, I think they proved that. They weren't just satisfied to be here. They wanted to grow and get better and win. And I think that the tournament just teaches you an intensity that how much every possession means, the urgency in which you have to prepare, you have to stay hungry all the time. One lapse of focus, it gets you.

I'm sure we will look at a couple of possessions where there were some things under our control that we lost focus on and it came back to bite us. But in terms of the intensity, the experience, watching a young team -- we played four freshmen or four sophomores a lot of the time. Watching them mature and internalize all that.

What I love about the NCAA Tournament is not only does it prepare them to be better basketball players, to become professionals, to really be an elite team, but it teaches them as young women to handle intense situation, how it prepare, how the habits of excellence, how to handle all the external distractions. That's about preparing you for life. And as to watch them mature in that way, that doesn't go away. The rest of it ends at some point. You get four years. But what they're gaining from that as young women, that will be with them forever.

Q. I know you are friendly with Geno. You went to watch his team practice, obviously, in years past. Did you catch any of today's game beforehand and if so, watching that, what do you think as a coach seeing that?
COACH CLOSE: Oh oye, oye, they're really good. Geno and his whole staff, have been really good to me. And it's been -- lots of people have talked about that I've gone to watch them practice for extended days on two different occasions, and they were incredibly gracious.

I've called and picked their brains on some things, as I've tried to develop as a coach. I really appreciate that. A lot of coaches wouldn't, at his level, and it's their whole staff, it's Chris and Marissa and Shea, they wouldn't take that time to then pay it forward and into helping me grow our program. So I'm appreciative of that.

I think it's not just the level of excellence in which they're playing, it's the style and versatility and selflessness that they play with. They play extremely hard, they play both ends of the floor, they're incredibly versatile, they're high IQ, and they do it every night. That's not an easy thing. It's easy to say, hard to do. They have just proven that over time.

And as a Wooden disciple, the way people talked about Wooden's teams, and still talk about wooden's teams, is the way they're talking about Geno's teams right now. And they have earned every bit of recognition they're getting.

They're setting a bar really high for people to reach, but our entire game will be better in the long-term because of them, how high they have set that bar.

THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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