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March 24, 2017
CORI CLOSE: Well, hi, everybody. Sorry we're running a little behind. We had three kids with a final exam, so we couldn't leave any earlier. You'd think we would be used to the traffic, but we weren't. But we're excited to be here. Appreciate all of you helping us grow our game and giving coverage to the journey of these women. We're excited about the opportunity to continue the dance and to continue to get better, and we'll just go from there.
Q. You made it a point, it seems like, to go out to Baylor and play them and go out to South Carolina and play them, obviously hostile environments. Talk about what your team learned from those games and how you will try to use it tomorrow in what's probably going to be a real hostile environment.
CORI CLOSE: Well, I think, add the Pac-12 hostile environments to that, as well. I think it's just a maturation process. You learn to focus on the things under your control. You know some things are going to be a little bit more difficult, but it's not something that's going to be unfamiliar. You know, I think that's one thing I've really enjoyed about this team is they really don't put too much into that kind of stuff. They're just like, hey, we can't control that; it is what it is. We're used to it, we've embraced it, and I think having good point-guard play helps, too.
Q. I remember you and I talked a while ago about when you first got the UCLA job, you came to UConn and went to practice a few times.
CORI CLOSE: Yeah.
Q. Talk about that experience, when it was, and what it meant to be in a UConn practice and now you're playing them again?
CORI CLOSE: Well, great people, that I think -- one of the things I think is really important is that they're really interested in growing the game, not just growing UConn, not just -- I think it's bigger than themselves, and I was a beneficiary of that. I'm a big believer that you've got to learn from the best, and so I think I've gone back four times, and I brought our entire staff back, I think maybe our second year at UCLA. And spent, I think, three days watching practice, and they were gracious to let us pick their brains a little bit, and it just was a great experience.
Obviously, I've had some great experiences at UCLA. I had the opportunity to seek out mentorship by John Wooden, as well. I think for me it's just enjoying being a consummate learner, and you know, I really want our program to be a consistent, elite program that's playing at the top. So why wouldn't I go seek out wisdom from the people that are there?
Q. What year was the first time you came to see them? And also, since you did learn from Coach Wooden, also, just comparing the two of them.
CORI CLOSE: Yeah, I'm really old, so I'm not sure exactly what the year is. I think the first time I went back was spring of maybe 2011, 2012. I think it was the spring of that -- I think we were not in the tournament my first year at UCLA, and I went back myself. And I think I spent three days there, and then I actually went to Notre Dame on my way back and spent three days there.
But the second part of your question, in terms of Coach Wooden, I think Coach Wooden and Coach Auriemma have a very high attention to detail, and they are always going to be pushing the envelope of your best, and I think that's the big -- I think their styles are vastly different, but that's something they really share in common is an extreme attention to detail and a consistency to push that envelope, that there's more, there's more, even to help their players find gears inside of them that maybe they didn't even know they had.
Q. Two questions sort of jumping off of that point. My memory is that you have the pyramid of success in your office. You have the first two lit up at this point. If there's a victory over UConn, if you guys come in and snap that streak, do you think that the third part of the pyramid will be lit up? And just also related to that, I'm curious whether you have used the history and the history of UCLA and the history of coming in and facing a team that has that record as motivation, as a part of your preparation, getting ready for this game?
CORI CLOSE: I'll work my way backwards, and let me know if I forget anything.
I think, no, I haven't, but it is interesting. A few days ago, Nan Wooden called me, it was her birthday and she was calling to congratulate us on the game Monday night. But she definitely reminds me of who broke that record, so there's some other people who have reminded us.
I think that I've really actually tried to stay away from everything that doesn't have to do with the next 40 minutes. And I think that's part of why people have a hard time is because they get distracted by a lot of the other things that really have nothing to do with us. And as much as we are attached to the history of UCLA and the motivation, I don't think we need any motivation at this point. You know, if I'm focusing on motivation in the Sweet 16 game, I probably have some bigger problems.
You know, I've really just tried to narrow the focus and tried to know our team, how do we play our best, stay focused on that.
In terms of the pyramid of success, and I think you're referring to in our office, we had it -- we called it second-level living, and we were just literally building the foundations and moving our way up. I think it's really just -- it's a vivid reminder that we're trusting the process. We're not talking about the championships. We're doing the work and making the commitments that lead to those things, and you know, I'll light up a lot of things if we're able to do that.
But the bottom line for me is that my commitment to these young women is to create a transformational experience that not only helps them reach their potential on the court, but helps them long after the ball goes flat.
Part of it is a reminder to the players, but maybe some of it is just a reminder to me, that it's just one block at a time, one step at a time, and stay focused on that.
Q. You've talked about learning from coaches, and then also what your philosophy is and cultivating young women. When you put all of that together, what would you say is your approach to the season that you've had, but then does that change when you enter into the postseason tournaments?
CORI CLOSE: We try not to. I mean, I think that's why you really embrace, like the gentleman said, about going to play at South Carolina, going to play at Baylor, playing in the No. 1 conference in the country, is that so when you get to this point, it doesn't feel like this huge change, we've got to do something different, we've got to be something different. I think that's really -- we're trying to build habits that prepare us for moments like this, and so I really hope it isn't that different. I mean, obviously there's more media attention, there's more -- longer times being in the locker room before you ever practice, little things like that, but that's just part of the fun vibe of being in the March Madness and the NCAA Tournament.
But I really am trying to keep it consistent in our preparation. I've been challenging our team the whole year, and I just said, hey, you've got to fall in love with the preparation, and you've got to fall in love with making a play for somebody else. And it's got to be selfless basketball, and you've got to enjoy the process of getting better and pushing those comfort zones. It's gotten us to this point, so I'm going to keep with it.
Q. During the season, technically you played what we referred to as the AP league, western division. We look out there one night and suddenly you were diving, then you were rising. Can you talk about the ability to sustain those ups and downs and get to where you are now?
CORI CLOSE: Well, I think, you know, life has disappointments, and basketball has disappointments, and it has growth opportunities. I think, you know, we obviously aren't undefeated, but we look back on every single one of the processes where we've had ups and downs, and I bet if you asked our players, they would be able to say, oh, we learned this from this point, we learned this from this point, and I think really just taking a growth mindset to all the ups and downs that happen in a season and trying to let it teach your heart.
Just a few weeks ago or a couple weeks ago when we lost in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament, I just was so -- I just was really aware that this was going to teach our hearts, and I saw how our invested our team was, and I think that's the way it is all the way through the year. When a team is really invested, every time there's an up, every time there's a down, there's an opportunity to grow.
Q. I know you probably didn't spend too much time this year watching UConn. They're obviously on TV enough that you saw them a few times, but now that you've probably spent the last week or so paying attention, what has impressed you most about what they do now?
CORI CLOSE: Well, I think that the thing that's impressed me about their program over time, and this is why I think they play better than their individual pieces on paper are supposed to -- and this is the year, of course, that everybody would have said that -- is their ability to pass the ball. Every single person on their team can pass it, and I think, therefore, they create such easier opportunities for each other.
There's a lot of times when I'm watching film that you'll say, oh, that offense or that action created a great opportunity, but the passer couldn't find them. Passer couldn't get it to them. And UConn teams, year in and year out, they pass the ball so well that they make their unit better than the sum total of their parts.
I think this year maybe more than any year, because there's not this go-to player -- like we're going to run this play and we're going to go get Stewie a touch here and that's the end of it. It's all these different players making plays at different times.
I've watched a fair amount of film now, and it's just remarkable the efficiency, and I think their ability to not talk about just one player, to have different players be involved in so many different plays. Obviously I've been watching Katie Lou Samuelson since she was really young. I've got one of her high school teammates on my team in Ally Rosenblum. There's some obviously great individual players.
But that isn't what's impressed me the most. They use each other's strengths to make life easier for somebody else.
Q. In terms of Jordin's development this year, her numbers were already terrific last year, but her assist percentage jumped over 40 percent, one of a handful of players in the country that that's the case, and her turnover percentage went way down, actually the lowest of anybody in the top 20 in assist percentage. What do you account for that change? How do you go about doing that? Generally assist percentage leads to more turnovers because you're trying for more. She's managed to do them both. How has she done it?
CORI CLOSE: Well, I think every year that Jordin has been here, I think she's really changed in her habits, her work ethic, as well as in her mental approach to the game.
I think she was such a dynamic scorer coming out of high school that it was really hard for her to step back and think of the game globally first. Like my job isn't first to score. I mean, every time in high school when things got hard, you put the team on your back and you went and got buckets, and that was it. Even she talked about this recently, just she thought defense was everybody else's job. And I think the combination of her falling in love with defense, I know that sounds like a weird answer to your question, but I think it's given us easy opportunities and numbers breaks where those assist-to-turnover decisions are really a much easier situation for her.
But I've really seen just a student of the game. Her and I watch individual film together every week, and watching her see the game sort of just from a deeper standpoint, and now she'll come to me in practice and go, what about this. It happened on the plane yesterday. She's like, I think if we put Kari in this action at this point, this will cause some troubles on the switch or whatever else. It's really fun to watch her really think the game.
I think when you make other people better and your turnovers go down, it's because you're anticipating more than you're reacting, and she's starting to see, oh, this is going to happen. When I do this, it's going to cause this, this and this. And I think she reacted to plays maybe in her first two years, and this year she's anticipating plays.
Q. Have you seen anybody as athletic as UConn's Gabby Williams up front?
CORI CLOSE: Well, I'd say Monique Billings is right up there, so I think that's going to be a really interesting match-up. I obviously really respect Gabby Williams and her athleticism. More than her athleticism, though, it's her consistency and determination to try to be involved in every play.
But I really like Monique Billings' athleticism, too. I really think that's going to be a really fun match-up to watch out there because they both have the ability to affect every play on both ends of the floor.
And to the end that which person can make those plays consistently, that'll be an interesting one. But obvious respect for Gabby, but I also have a lot of respect for Monique Billings, as well.
Q. I'm not sure if you saw, Becky Hammond was reportedly offered the Florida job. You know, a job used to be a very difficult position to be in. There's a chance to have a raise and to continue to grow the women's game, which I think is something that is so significant in your life, as well. But obviously the chance to be a trailblazer, also, in the NBA. What are your thoughts on it, and what would your take be?
CORI CLOSE: Well, you know, I think my take would be you've got to really know your own heart and what your own sort of calling is to make a difference, and I think that's different for different people.
For me, my heart is really with college-aged young women, and I think it's a unique age. So for me it wouldn't really be a question. But I also really -- I've been inspired by watching her journey in the NBA, and I know how many other people are, and she's really good friends with Jenny Huth on my staff. They grew up together in Colorado. I just really respect what she's been willing to do not only for women and opportunities, but think about all the little girls that have watched that and gone, maybe that could be me.
So as a fellow coach, you know, I think she's just got to know what the deepest calling is in her heart, in her life. And I think you can make a difference in our game and make a difference in people's lives in lots of different ways, and I'll be really excited to see what she chooses because we know whatever she chooses, she will do a lot of good.
Q. Just making the trip out here again, is it a little more comforting that your kids have been to Bridgeport, gone through the East Coast routine and they can be comfortable going into tomorrow's game?
CORI CLOSE: It's always interesting for us. We had three kids have final exams as I mentioned earlier. We're finished, I think, as of this afternoon. We've got a couple papers that need to be turned in, but last year we were done just the way the calendar fell, so that added a little bit. But it was fun just listening to our players as we flew in, as drove in, there is a sense of familiarity, and I think it's a difference. Last year was the first time we'd been to a Sweet 16, and I think since 1999 -- my numbers might not be exactly right -- but I think this year we expect to be here. We expect to compete at the highest levels. We expect to play our best when our best is needed.
I just think there's sort of a different level of just confidence. Our culture has grown a little bit. That's just a building -- it's sort of one of those building-block things. There's just a mental expectation.
But I think there is a familiarity. I think there's a little bit of comfort there, but I think most of that is just a maturation process, and our expectancy to be at the highest level this time of year.
Q. You guys went out to Baylor and played, you guys went out to South Carolina and played, pretty hostile environments. Can you talk about what you learned from those games and how you intend to put that to good use tomorrow in what's probably going to be a hostile environment?
KARI KORVER: I think in both those games, we had really good starts. I think we had really good first halves. Against Baylor, I know we had the lead going into halftime. I can't remember for sure about South Carolina, and then we just didn't play for four quarters. And that's something we've been trying to learn the whole year is we need to play basketball for four quarters if we're going to go and beat great teams like that in their place, so we've been learning that throughout the year.
JORDIN CANADA: Yeah, I agree with Korver, our consistency in that has grown tremendously, and I think something else that we need to focus on and got better at is our defensive rebounding. We lost the battle of the boards from both teams, and we have to rebound in order to win this game. I mean, Collier and Williams, they're great at rebounding, so we have to make sure that we're boxing them out and we're staying consistent in that as well.
Q. Jordin, after last year, numbers were already very solid. Your assist numbers have risen this year, but your turnover have gone down. I'm wondering how you account for those two things and what you think has led to your assists and turnovers being so much more efficient this year?
JORDIN CANADA: I think for me what I really focused on this past year is slowing the game down for myself. I think the first two years I was just playing fast and not really playing efficient enough. And I think this year I really tried to focus on that and put my teammates in positions to succeed, coming off screens, reading the defense. I think that's something that helped me, and then once I got to learn that and practiced that more and more, the game kind of slowed down for me, so I was able to make great decisions.
Q. For both of you, you've probably seen a few UConn games on TV, but having watched film the last couple days, what's most impressed you about them seeing them on film?
KARI KORVER: I think their offense, the way that they move the ball and they all are involved, and it's not a ton of dribbling. It's just they find the most open person and get them the ball and they score or their transition, as well, is really impressive.
JORDIN CANADA: I think their defense, how they're able to just shut down teams, no matter who they're playing. It could be a top-10 team, it could just be another team. It doesn't matter. The way they play defense is team basketball. Like I just love the way that they play defense.
Q. Turning that question on its head, for those of us who haven't been able to see you play out on the West Coast, what are the aspects of the UCLA game that you think will be on full display or will need to be on full display in order to be successful?
JORDIN CANADA: I think transition offense is where we thrive the most. We get out and we push and we run, and we're able to do that when we get defensive stops. I think that's one of our best attributes of our game is transition offense.
KARI KORVER: I think to add to that, on defense we've gotten a ton better. When we started the year, we let teams score in the 80s so then we had to score like in the 80s or 90s to win. And now I think we can really hold teams to a lot lower point value, so I think our defense.
Q. To be in the building where the Sweet 16 disappointment happened last year, is that significant for both of you, and have you allowed yourself to think about that in terms of how you want to hopefully look for a different ending this time around?
JORDIN CANADA: I mean, obviously it's kind of hard coming back to the same gym that you lost, but at the same time, you're not thinking about that. That was last year; this is a different year. You're focusing on what you can do to get better as a team, and the way we've been playing these past couple weeks actually has prepared us for this moment. So I mean, we're not really worried. I haven't even been thinking about last year's game. That's a game that happened in the past, so we're moving forward.
KARI KORVER: Yeah, I would agree with Jordin. I think walking into the locker room initially was kind of weird because we were in that locker last year, and Coach is crying, and you're losing your seniors and all of that. But we're focused on the game tomorrow; we're not focused on last year.
Q. Obviously you guys play in one of the toughest conferences in the country; how well does that prepare you for a team like UConn? And also you've played in front of hostile crowds in that conference, as well, and tomorrow afternoon will probably be another hostile crowd I would think.
KARI KORVER: That's a great -- I love the Pac-12. Every night you have to come and you have to play a great game in order to win. There's no nights off. I think there's times where we lost on the road this year and we were disappointed in the Pac-12, but now look at -- like Oregon is in the Sweet 16 and we have five teams in the Sweet 16, I think. So those losses, they don't feel as bad. We still would have liked to win, we still think we could have won, but we're in a great conference, so we're prepared.
JORDIN CANADA: Yeah, I agree with Kari. I think that something we have learned playing in that conference is fighting for 40 minutes and being consistent and learning how to just play hard, everyone, whoever is in the game for however long. We need to focus on that and being consistent, and this conference has definitely prepared us for that. Every night you're going to get a good game. It doesn't matter. It's highly doubtful that you're going to get a game where you blow out teams by 20 or 15-plus, like you're going to get a good game every night.
So it's just being consistent and making sure we're fighting for 40 minutes.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports