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October 20, 2016

Cori Close

Jordin Canada

Monique Billings

San Francisco, California

COACH CLOSE: As always, I just really want to thank all of you. Our sport is really on an incredible momentum swing up, and it's really because of the efforts of all of you. We need the exposure. We need the passion to tell their stories. So I just want to really sincerely thank you for being here.

We are real excited about our season coming up, and it's going to be an interesting ride to watch them mature and now be the hunted and have sort of a target on their back and to watch them grow into what it takes to be able to operate in that role.

But even more so than their incredible -- what they do on the court, they really are one of the most enjoyable groups I've ever had a chance to work with. They have great chemistry. They have really great work ethic. They're willing to be pushed, and so I'm just a really happy coach.

Thank you guys for being here, but we're really excited to engage with your questions.

Q. For the players, what does it mean to both of you to be considered favorites, and what does it mean to your game and what you guys have to do?
JORDIN CANADA: Well, it's an honor, first of all, to be put in this position, but I'm not really focused about that, and I'm sure our teammates aren't, either. We're more so focused on the process and what it takes to be the best team that we can be. So we just like to take it day by day, practice by practice, game by game. It has nothing to do with wanting to be hunted. I mean, like I said, it's a great honor, but we're not really focused on that.

MONIQUE BILLINGS: Yeah, I would definitely agree with Jordan. Same thing. We just have to focus on day by day, practice by practice, game by game. We're in October. We can't focus on March yet. We have to focus on the process of getting there, which we're looking forward to.

Q. Monique, I marvel at your ability to jump as if you're on a pogo stick. I want to know what both of you did this off-season to improve your physicality and be able to take the banging that goes on through a PAC-12 season.
MONIQUE BILLINGS: Well, thank you so much. Yeah, preseason definitely just worked on expanding my game, so I've been working on taking more perimeter shots, shots from the three, mid-range jumpers, and also just continuing to try to perfect my footwork in the post. And just being solid, being a solid go-to post player, and so my teammates can count on me night in and night out for every game.

JORDIN CANADA: What I learned these past few years is your body being able to be fresh for a season. That's something that I've been really working on is taking care of my body more than anything else. So whether that be stretching before every practice, 15 minutes before practice, or getting treatment after or doing whatever I can to make sure that my body stays in good shape and healthy. And on the basketball side, widening my vision, learning not to over-penetrate and learning to kick out to my shooters or just widening my vision and my IQ would be something that I worked on, as well.

Q. Hoping that you can give us, Cori, sort of a macro view if you will to help us understand some of the things that you're really pleased with early on in terms of strength of this team that you're really looking forward to putting into play for the season?
COACH CLOSE: Well, we can score the ball, and we are really tough to guard because we've got the best three-point shooting lineup that we've had since I've been there, and then I've got these incredible north and south players that can really be athletic and run who are to my right, but also I would say Kennedy Burke in that range, too. She really plays up-and-down and uses her length.

So I think it's the combination of those two things that just make us really hard to guard.

I think that we can put up a lot of points. Adding Nicole Kornet as a really great shooter, it takes a lot for me to say this, but she's had days where she's a better shooter than Kari Korver. Kari Korver is probably the best shooter in our school's history, definitely one of the best shooters in the country, and Nicole Kornet can be said in that same breath.

I also have one of the fastest forwards in the country and then probably the fastest guard with the ball in her hands in Jordin.

And so the combination of those things I think is really where you have to start about the strength of our team, is our ability to score the basketball and the versatility of how people will have to guard us.

Q. On the flipside, just to be fair, Cori, what are some of the early work pieces that you feel like you're putting in play that you feel you really need to work on to be competitive?
COACH CLOSE: Well, I think we have to absolutely -- we were, I think, the No. 1 offensive rebounding team in the conference last year, but we were one of the poorest defensive rebounding teams. We did a really good job of forcing a really hard first shot. We must be a better defensive rebounding team, period.

And that's got -- that's probably my biggest emphasis right now is being able to control possessions on the defensive end of the floor. Why go to all that work to be a good defensive team to force a hard shot and then not come up with the rebound?

Secondly, we need assisted baskets on the offensive end. We can run and play up tempo, that is obviously when we're at our best. To go deep into March, you have to prepare those things now. I'm not focused on March, as Monique said, but in terms of building your toolbox, it's really important for us to be able to have a few more execution plays, a few more plays that we do together off of assisted baskets, either off of a screen and then a great pass to take some easier shots.

We took way too many hard shots, where Monique or Jordin or a couple other people had to put the team on their back and make really miraculous plays, and we need to have to rely on that less.

Q. Coach, the first year you had Mo Billings, you said saw raw, unbridled. Jaw-dropping player. You said that she's going to be make the biggest leaps from year to year. In what way should we look for Mo to have improved her game?
COACH CLOSE: Well, I'm not sure I thought Mo could improve more than she did between her freshman and sophomore year, but she has. She's made another really big jump. It's like I'm talking like you're not here.

But you know, what she did is she already spoke about her perimeter game, but one of the things I'm noticing, and we actually just watched film last year flying up here, is that she's setting screens in really like high IQ areas, not something that's in our offense, she's recognizing that as Jordin is bringing the ball down in transition, if she sets this sort of flare screen for Korver, she can create a shot for somebody else. And I think those are the kind of plays that are really what's separating her right now is her IQ. She's posting really well. She's learning to seal more consistently in the post.

But I think the biggest difference you're going to see is her ability to guard guards on the perimeter. She is keeping people in front of her. Her perimeter defense, we've been able to switch all of our screens 1 through 5 because of Monique's ability to guard on the perimeter.

And then on top of that, just what she said about shooting the ball, and she's passing the ball better and making her teammates better. I think last year we were amazed at her individual plays from year one to year two. This year you're going to be amazed at not only her individual plays but the plays she makes for the sake of the team.

Q. Just wondering, you had two seniors last year, but I think they were big parts of the team, and every year it's a different group, you make your changes. I know you had to go without Kacy for a little bit because of an injury, and then you had Nirra. Those are big holes to fill, not just on the court but just probably in the locker room and everywhere. Who are some of the players, or does that change either of your mindsets, also?
STUDENT-ATHLETE: Yeah, it's definitely different without Nirra and Kacy since they brought that older mentality, that maturity. And I feel like me and Jordin have had to step up in those areas.

On TV earlier we were talking to Roz about that. We said we're not babies anymore. We can't blame our mistakes on being young. We're upperclassmen now. Our mistakes have to be limited. And we just have to really just focus on just being the example, setting the example, setting the standard, even when we don't feel like it. Our principles have to override our feelings at the time.

COACH CLOSE: We're going to miss both of them on the defensive end. People always talk to me about, oh, how are you going to replace Nirra's scoring. Obviously Nirra just had a major impact in the Olympics. She can score the ball. I'm not minimizing that. But what we're going to miss both of them is their defensive abilities.

Kacy Swain was a great defensive post player. Nirra Fields could really keep anybody in front of her. It limits how much you have to rotated. We're going to have to rely a lot more on our help side rotations this year because we don't have Nirra Fields.

But I think you hit it in the locker room. I think it's going to be fun to watch other people step up, but the legacy that they left is that hard work pays off. And I think that Kacy Swain, actually her hard work has been she's got this unbelievable job right out of college because of the hard work she put in in these internships while she was there. For Nirra Fields, she really made herself a gym rat, and she was a major contributor as one of the youngest players in the Olympics.

So I think even though they're not there, I think the work ethic has trickled down, and I think that they are carrying their torch by how hard they're working.

Q. Jordin, we all saw you as a leader even as a freshman on the court. I'm wondering now a few years in how you see your role in terms of leadership, socially, emotionally with the team now that you're three years in and one of the veteran players. What's your role?
JORDIN CANADA: Well, now I believe my role as a junior is to teach the younger players, whether that be about plays or just the work ethic and just set an example.

Being the point guard of the team, I have to lead in that way every single day, so I can't slip up. And I know all of us have our bad days, but even on the bad days, we have to learn how to just work hard no matter what, and that's the example that I've tried to set.

I've taken Kennedy under my wing. I've tried to teach her some things. When she gets tired, telling her to push through, how to breathe, literally. So just being able to teach and letting her know that I was in the same exact position that she was in freshman year and sophomore year, so just knowing that I can do that for her and build her confidence up.

Q. You're now juniors and have watched your program improve so much. As sophomores you won -- freshmen you won the WNIT and last year Sweet 16. What is success going to be defined as for you this coming season?
STUDENT-ATHLETE: To me, I think success this year would just be being able to just grow in the things that we need to grow in. I mean, this year our theme is grit, so just having that gritty sense about us and just being confident and knowing each other well.

Last year we built a lot of chemistry, and so this year we're looking to continue that and just loving the game and getting back to having fun.

Sometimes teams take it a little bit too serious and they really know how to combine fun and hard work, and I think that's something that we're going to be looking forward to this season is learning how to have fun through the adversity.

MONIQUE BILLINGS: I agree with what Jordin said, and also something Coach Cori always tells us, she said, Do you want the pain of not working hard right now or the pain of regret later in the season? And that's definitely stuck with our team just because at the times when you don't feel like going to early practice or having to work hard at that specific moment, you would rather just have that pain in that moment rather than in March fall short. So I think that's definitely a focus for our team.

Q. Cori, sometimes the stars align, sometimes luck happens, but the reality is a lot of times you create your own luck. You've built this program, you've brought in the players that needed to do it. They've all paid attention to the coaching staff and they're all doing their part, as well. You were picked preseason No. 1 for a reason. Help me and the rest of us understand what truly is from your seat the potential of this team, not just in this league but beyond.
COACH CLOSE: Well, you know, you guys know I'm a Wooden disciple, and I think the key to reaching that potential, so I'm giving a caveat, is really not talking about it very much, because I think sometimes that can be a distraction. It can create pressure. It can keep you from focusing on the things that actually lead you to being your best when your best is needed. I'm a little bit hesitant to say, but obviously when you're at UCLA and there's 113 national championships, that's what your standard of excellence is.

So when we're planning how our practices need to go, how we need to schedule, it's with that standard in mind. What is it going to take, how are we measuring against the nation's best to measure where our potential is. I believe that this team, and I have told them this, and then I said we're never going to talk about it again, I said, I really do believe this team can be playing in Dallas. I believe there's not anybody in the country -- and we're going to find out.

We're playing Baylor early, playing South Carolina right before the holiday break, and we're going to measure ourselves against the best teams, and we'll find out.

We've got to go earn it. But the reality, I do believe that this team has the tools and they have the chemistry and they have the character. I think it's easy in these situations to say, oh, I have talented players, but that really isn't going to mean very much if the character and the chemistry doesn't go along with it.

I really do believe we could be playing in Dallas and for National Championship level things. But I actually asked them in a team-building session or film session to write down all of their goals on a piece of paper, and then I asked them to read some of them out loud. And I said, are they that different from anyone else in the country right now. To win a championship -- everyone wants to win a championship, to be an All-American, whatever the case might be.

And then I asked them to rip them up and throw them down, and now write down one of your commitments, and now we're only going to focus on our commitments. And if you really want those things, the rest of the year that's what we'll talk about is our commitments, so that's what we're focused on.

I am honored, I don't want to brush it under the rug that my colleagues believed that we were a team that had the chance to compete for a PAC-12 Championship, and I really believe in this group, but I'm also aware that it's going to be fun to watch the maturity and how they handle that. Because I think that could become a distraction if you don't -- success leads to complacency, complacency leads to failure if you're not very intentional otherwise, so it's going to be really important for us to be intentional otherwise, to know that we have experienced some success, but if we take our eyes off of the process of how we got there, that's when failure follows.

Q. Two years ago you were really honest with us when these athletes were freshmen saying that pre-conference season schedule that was so tough, there were moments during that when you wondered how things were going to turn out for this team. Now that they're juniors and they're so battle tested, in what way have you seen that manifest itself positively?
COACH CLOSE: Well, I just think confidence can't be given to anyone. I think you have to earn it through conquering hard things, and sometimes that's just really painful, almost as a coach even to watch them have to go through that. You want to go in and rescue them sometimes.

You know, they had a big dream. They came here believing in a vision, wanting to do something for the first time, to create a legacy that had never been created in women's basketball at UCLA. Those are big, bold dreams, and to have the confidence to live that out, to actually do that, you have to go through the fires. You have to conquer hard things.

But I think now they're at a position because they have been willing to walk through those hard days and to not shy away from them, to be honest about them, to work through hard things even as we grow in our relationship, that I think now they are a confident group as a result of those choices.

Was it easy when we were going through that? Absolutely not, but now as I look back and I see what got refined in them as a result of that battle, I'm thankful.

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