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March 17, 2017

Steve Alford

TJ Leaf

Lonzo Ball

Sacramento, California

UCLA - 97, Kent State - 80

THE MODERATOR: Our fourth and final group of interviews this evening. Our student-athletes are Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf along with Coach Steve Alford. Would you lead us off?

STEVE ALFORD: Very pleased with our guys. At times we were very good defensively. We had some lapse and this is a very good team. I think our guys, that first one is always the hardest and you get to figure out what the tournament is about. Everybody is fighting for their life because everybody knows there is no tomorrow if you don't win the game.

Kent State puts a lot of pressure on you. I thought they did a lot of good things. It was a battle. If you look across the country these games are just battles. They are hard. I thought our guys really battled. I congratulate them. They had an outstanding season, and they were a great challenge tonight. I thought our guys did a great job of meeting that challenge.

Q. You guys survived the first test, take down the school I attend as a student. Lonzo, at one point in the game you got a little shook up, you okay?
LONZO BALL: I'm fine.

Q. Coach, can you talk about the effort of both Lonzo and TJ. Seemed like they played with a certain intensity, like they carried you through a lot of what happened tonight?
STEVE ALFORD: I thought they did a really good job, obviously as freshmen playing in their first tournament game. I thought they were really good. Just in there, though. I thought the two of them played the game hard, played it efficiently. I thought Aaron was terrific off the bench. GG gave us some really good minutes. He hadn't played 17 minutes in a while, and I thought he was really good with Ike out. Hopefully Ike is back on Sunday, but I thought we had some really good minutes out of some really good guys tonight.

Q. Coach, early in the second half Walker came down, hit a shot, cut the Bruins lead 54-50. Then you called a timeout and I think you went on to a 13-5 run after that. How did you get 'em to regroup?
STEVE ALFORD: I have no idea what I said. There was a lot of timeouts after that. Trying to calm them down and get some stops defensively. We lost the first four-minute game 10-11 and you can't come out of half. We score tens, great, can't give up 11. So we take a lot of pride winning that four-minute game coming out of half. We didn't do that. I think after that four-minute game we were much better defensively.

Our offense was clicking pretty good. We shot 47 and 50. We shot a very high percentage. We got to the free throw line. We did a lot of good things. I didn't like how we got on the backboard. We're going to have to be much better on the backboard Sunday than what we were tonight.

Q. Lonzo, there was a report that your mom suffered a stroke. I just want to know if that was the case and how you're holding up if that's the case?
LONZO BALL: I got no comment on that, man. It's a family thing.

Q. TJ, what was it like playing against Jimmy Hall down there? He had 20 points, 15 rebounds. He was battling you guys.
TJ LEAF: He's a heck of a player. He was tough to play against, but at the end of the day all we care about is getting the win and we did that tonight. Kudos to him because he is a heck of a player and they're a very good team.

Q. Lonzo, you passed the UCLA single season assist record today. What does that mean to you?
LONZO BALL: Credit to my teammates. Can't get an assist without them scoring. I thank them.

Q. This was your first NCAA Tournament game. What impressed you? Were you surprised by anything? Did the magnitude impress you? Did it feel different?
LONZO BALL: It was definitely different, but Coach had us ready to go as you can see and every team is good. So you've got to come out and play like it's your last game.

TJ LEAF: Definitely different, but it's the game of basketball and we've been playing all our lives. So we know how to do it. Each game could be your last, so we've got to leave it all out there.

Q. How is it different?
TJ LEAF: Bigger environment. If you lose, you're done until next year. So that makes it a lot more pressure on you.

Q. Coach, Pac-12 now 4-0 in the tournament and I guess you could say 5-0 with USC's win. Talk about how that play in the Pac-12 got you ready to play other teams in this tournament?
STEVE ALFORD: I think those are the top four teams and the conference was top-heavy this year and those four teams were playing consistently well throughout league play and at the end of the season. It's good to see us advancing. Now we've got another step that we've got to take. Obviously, the first round of games have gone well for our league and those are good teams. Those are four very good teams that are still left from the Pac-12 and hopefully we can continue that.

Q. Coach, you mentioned Aaron Holiday. He had 11 assists. Can you talk about what he gave you off the bench tonight?
STEVE ALFORD: He practiced well this week. His practices were good, really sound. He made great decisions. He didn't force things. He let the game come to himself. We spent some time with him showing him how vital he is in that regard of just learning when to drive, when to make the pass and I thought tonight he was just tremendous. He drove it. He finished when he needed to finish. He passed when he needed to pass. His decision-making today I thought it was as good as it's been in a long time.

Q. You guys made 12 shots in a row, 13 of 14. What was that like there at the end and what keyed that run of accuracy that you guys had? It was impressive.
LONZO BALL: Staying consistent, sticking to the game plan. We knew that we were bigger than them, so a lot of our shots were inside and we went throughout. TJ and Tom helped a lot.

Q. Coach, what are your thoughts about Cincinnati? They only lost five games in the regular season they looked convincing against Kansas State today?
STEVE ALFORD: Yeah, they did. I haven't spent time on them because of our prep for K-State. That will happen tonight and tomorrow, getting ready for that. I have an awful lot of respect for Mick. They have been consistent like we have. I'm proud of our guys to get to 30 wins and things they have been able to do.

So you've got two teams that are used to winning all year long. So obviously something has to give on Sunday. It's got all the makings of a great game fighting to see who can get to the Sweet 16. Obviously we have a lot of respect for them and how they go about things.

Q. Coach, coming in Kent State has been a good offensive rebounding team all year. What did they do tonight that hurt you guys on the boards and were they better than you expected there?
STEVE ALFORD: They average 15 offensive rebounds and that's what we gave 'em. I think if there was a negative about tonight, we didn't do a very good job of taking that away from them.

I will say this, they took 71 shots, missed 40 of 'em. So there's more opportunities. We took 59 and missed, what, 22? So we didn't have as many opportunities and when you send as many to the glass as they do, if you don't get it, you're vulnerable to what we do in transition. To get to 97 and get out and run I think that was a big part of it, too.

So it's maybe a little bit different that way because we do like it when teams send a lot to the glass because I think it opens up our transition even more, but we do have to look at that on film and do a better job of securing the rebounds.

Q. Coach, can you talk about Lonzo's poise and what it's meant to the team?
STEVE ALFORD: He plays the game with great poise. I think he has a calming affect on everybody. That's good. That's what you gotta have in a point guard regardless of what the run is that we're in. I thought we were poised tonight.

I thought where we weren't very poised tonight. Where we weren't poised is when we got up 15 in the first half, maybe 16 in the first half and we kinda let up. Our shot selection was worse. We didn't defend. There is a poise to what you want to do offensively, but you've got to have poise defensively, too. I didn't think we did that as well in the first half as a team, but "Zo" does a really good job, and we've said it all year long. He understands how to orchestrate our team. The guys trust him wholeheartedly, it goes top to bottom. You can see how much they all look to get him the ball to make decisions. So there is a lot of trust there with how he goes about playing the game.

Q. Are you amazed how Lonzo has been able to handle -- all your kids have distractions, but the distractions have been -- are you amazed of how --
STEVE ALFORD: I don't know if I'm amazed. I'm proud of him. For an 18 year old to play in his first season of college basketball and with the pressure on him, we were sitting here 15-17 last year and now we're 30-4. These two guys have had a lot to do with it. Our vets have had a lot to do with it, our blend, we've meshed things very well.

But obviously there is a lot of pressure on him. He's got a huge following, so to perform at a high level all the time that's not easy. That's what he's built for. He's built for pressure. He's built to excel in the toughest environments and the toughest opportunities, challenges that are out there. He's done that time and time again. I think for two freshmen these guys have been built this way. TJ is a coach's kid. They get it. They understand it. They played awfully tonight, and we're going to need 'em to play well on Sunday.

Q. Lonzo, how is the hip feeling? Steve, what were your first thoughts when you saw him hit the floor that hard?
LONZO BALL: I'm fine. Finished the game, got up. I'm good.

STEVE ALFORD: Matters that he just got up. I didn't know if he was going to finish the game. I just wanted him to get up. He went down hard, obviously, and he will probably be sore and we've got great medical staff and this kid to my right is pretty tough. So I don't think it's anything to worry about.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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