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March 25, 2017
UConn - 86, UCLA - 71
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by UCLA.
An opening statement from Coach Close.
COACH CLOSE: Well, you know, credit to UConn. They are so consistent in their standard of excellence.
I thought we were prepared. I thought we believed in what we were doing. We just had that segment in the first half for about eight minutes where we sort of lost our focus and our discipline.
When you lose that, they capitalize. So credit to them. They've set the bar of excellence, and they've kept it there for a really long time. It's just a really big commitment to all the little details, a lot of the little inches.
I think I shared it with you last year, this is my least favorite statement to make because I don't want it to end. I just love these young women. These guys, I mean, this little kid from L.A. here said, Hey, I want to stay home, I want to build a program, take a risk, do something special. We fell short, but that's exactly what she's done.
Kari Korver, she's one of my very first phone calls within my first week of when I got the job. She believed in our mission, not just on the court. We do things a little differently at UCLA. She believed in it before it ever bore fruit on the court.
I told the three seniors that I'm different, I'm better because of them. I feel like I've received way more than I've ever given. I hate to see it end. But I couldn't be any more proud of their fight. On the court in the second half, I thought they fought their guts out, really responded.
I couldn't be any more proud of their fight, but I'm even more proud of the way they represent UCLA, their character, the way they pour out and invest in each other.
THE MODERATOR: We'll have questions for the student-athletes.
Q. For both of you, you got off to such a good start. What was it? Did they do anything different when they went on the run? What was the difference in the first bit?
KARI KORVER: I think we didn't rebound particularly well. We had a 10-minute stretch where we didn't get any rebounds. They had a bunch of transition threes where we weren't getting matched up very well. They had second-chance points. They hit threes in transition.
JORDIN CANADA: Yeah, I agree with Kari. We also had some mental lapses in the second quarter. That's when they got on their run.
For a second, we kind of looked defeated. That's when they capitalized on their opportunities to score in transition and get offensive rebounds. I think it was just our lack of focus.
Q. You were on the team that played UConn a couple years ago. How do you think your team has evolved in that time?
KARI KORVER: We're such a better team than that year. We're a lot closer. Our chemistry is so much better. We share the ball so much better. We're way more of a hard-working team.
Yeah, our culture has completely changed since that time.
Q. Kari, your coach said you needed to play your best game of the season to beat these guys. Do you think this was your best game of the season? Do you think it came close?
KARI KORVER: I think there were spurts. But, no, I don't think this was our best game of the season. Like I said earlier, we didn't rebound particularly well. We know if we're going to win this game, we have to rebound.
Yeah, we had some good spurts in there.
Q. Jordin, all year you've been dominant. To do it today, 20 points, 11 assists, two turnovers, against this UConn team, do you think you made a statement about the kind of player you have become?
JORDIN CANADA: I mean, doesn't matter if I'm playing UConn. I really don't care who I'm playing, honestly. It's all about what I can do to bring energy to my teammates, what can I do to make my teammates better, and to grow, as well.
I mean, obviously I had a good game, but that doesn't even matter because we lost. Yeah, I mean, that's all I can say. Like, I don't really care who we're playing. I just focus on myself and my team and what I can do to get better.
Q. Jordin, after the game, Coach Auriemma stopped in line and talked to you a little bit longer than the rest of the players. Say what he said to you.
JORDIN CANADA: I'm assuming he thought I was a senior because he said, Congrats on a great career, good luck on the next level (smiling).
I just took it and ran with it. I told him, Thank you. Maybe that. That's what he said to me. I just said, Thank you.
Q. For both players, could you talk about your impressions of Saniya Chong.
KARI KORVER: Yeah, I felt like some of her success was my fault. There were times when I was trying to help in, and I shouldn't have. She got open threes. One time I was pressuring her, she got a wide-open layup. She did a great job, and I need to do a better job.
JORDIN CANADA: She played her role. She knows who she is as a player. She helped her team the best way she could.
Q. Jordin, you talked about what Geno said to you. What did Cori say to you as you came off the court?
COACH CLOSE: I don't even know.
JORDIN CANADA: She told me we're going to continue to build the program, that she was proud of me, proud of our team.
COACH CLOSE: Glad you were listening (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for your time, ladies. Congratulations on a great season. We'll open it up for questions with Coach Close.
Q. The game before, you were watching that Oregon-Maryland game, you were giving high fives to the Oregon players as they came off the court. Did that help give you a little extra not momentum or emphasis, but the fact that they just pulled off a huge upset, another Pac-12 team, you came off to a strong start?
COACH CLOSE: I don't know what it did to us. Our players didn't even know that was happening. I just am proud of Oregon. I think the way that we have built the Pac-12 is caring about the Pac-12 more than caring about our own individual success.
I think as now rising tides lifts all boats. But we've said, Hey, we're going to raise the level of the Pac-12 together. I was just sincerely excited for them. We recruit against each other all the time. A lot of the players on their team, I have recruited. I know their staff very well. One of their assistant coaches is one of my best friends in the business.
I was sincerely excited for them. I don't know how it affected us. But I want to give them a lot of credit and tell them I'm really excited for them.
Q. How deflating is it when someone like Saniya Chong has the game she does? You did a good job against a couple of their starters.
COACH CLOSE: Well, I don't think it's deflating. I think that's what they do. They don't rely just on one individual player. They're a really solid team. I mean, you've heard Geno talk about that for years; that when you go to UConn, you're ready, and it's not about you, right?
Didn't matter to Katie Lou or Collier. Hey, that's my team. When she does well, we do well.
I don't think it's deflating. I think that's a compliment to them. That didn't surprise me. You can't do a good job on just two or three players with Connecticut. You have to do a phenomenal, A-plus job on the team. I've watched her a lot on film. She did a great job all year long for them.
Didn't surprise me at all. It's never about the individual. It's always about the team. I think she was just ready when her number was called and her opportunity came.
Q. You only had six turnovers against UConn, which is the least they've forced this season. Do you think that's a key for another team to beat UConn? If not, what do you think is?
COACH CLOSE: I think, because they're so efficient, you have to control possessions. So that can happen in different ways. That can either happen in turnover margin, getting easier shots, or it can happen in rebounding.
In that segment, I think at halftime they had 17 points off of our turnovers or second-chance points. I think you can't let them have more shots on the goal than you because they're just too efficient. You have to get more shots on the goal because there's not another team in the country that's as efficient as them. You have to get more opportunities.
You have to win the possessions battle. Yes, I think we did okay, but we only took care of half of it. We took care of the ball, but we needed to take care of the rebounding and second-chance opportunities. We needed to get some more of those opportunities. The compliment to them on their rebounding is they only really crashed two people. The fact they get so many second-shot opportunities, what a compliment to their perseverance.
Q. Did you think you would match up better with Collier and Williams?
COACH CLOSE: Well, it's very difficult. When you have to chase on screens and you got a hedge on really good three-point shooters, that's always going to leave you a little bit vulnerable for slips and rolls to the basket. They run so much in the middle of the floor, it makes it hard to rotate and help because who are you going to come off of. Obviously not any of their players. They shot the three so well.
You know, I thought we would have to play our best defensive game. I thought we would have to do it really consistently. I think any time we had a mental lapse or we were a step late, then, you know, it's the inches.
One of my staff members said to the team in the locker room, You didn't lose it by the feet, you lost it by the inches. You can't give up any inches.
I thought we matched up okay. I knew we would have to be absolutely locked in. Those hedges and pick'n rolls either off the stagger screens where you have to hedge for a second to buy time for the person coming off, or on the screen and rolls, I knew we would have to be extremely quick on those exchanges. We weren't.
Q. UConn couldn't literally put you away or dominate you like they have previous teams in this tournament. What do you think you need to do as far as for next season to beat a team like a Baylor, Texas, Notre Dame, UConn?
COACH CLOSE: I think we've already shown we can do that with some of those other teams.
I will tell you we have a very good, teachable moment right in front of us. Our second and third games of the year are against Baylor and UConn at home in November.
We're going to have a chance to see if we've learned anything from this experience.
I really believe we're knocking at the door of the nation's elite on a consistent basis, but we haven't thrown the door down. That's what you got to do. You got to want it so bad that you're not knocking on the door, you're throwing it open, busting through that next level.
We're close, but it's the difference of this much. I think this game, what we talked about in the locker room, is about those inches. I mean, you can tell, I'm becoming such a softy in my old age, they get me to cry at a moment's notice. I love them. I believe they're invested, not only in competing for a national championship, but they're investing at growing at every opportunity, pouring into each other.
I believe you will see the difference right off the bat because we will work all spring, all summer for those little inches.
You can't have a mental lapse. You can't go into yourself. There were a couple times we were mad we missed a basket, then in transition defense we weren't quite quick enough matching up and communicating. Bam, give up a three. That's a five-point swing. We missed a layup, gave up a three. We will learn from those inches.
We have to be ready to bust the door down, not be okay knocking on it.
Q. You and Oregon came across country, got set with early afternoon playing times on top of that. Talk for a second what the impact is on having to adjust to flying all the way over here, then playing so early in the day for you guys.
COACH CLOSE: I think if you're a competitor, you got to be -- obviously didn't bother Oregon. So I think at that point you got to say, Hey, whenever you decide to let me toss this ball up, I'm thankful to be here and you will get my best.
I think it's a lack of mental toughness for us to even acknowledge it. You're getting a chance to play in the Sweet 16. I don't care if it's 6:00 in the morning, get yourself ready to play.
Q. Two parts to this. Jordin dismissed it a little bit in terms of who she was playing. For her to put up 20-11-2, and Monique having 17-16 against their bigs on the inside, are those markers, in your mind, for what you can do? Do you see them as reasons to be more confident going into the Baylor-UConn vortex next November?
COACH CLOSE: Yeah. But I think they've been proving that all year. I think that's what you saw from Jordin, That's what my job is, that's what people expect from me, that's what I have to deliver for my team.
Monique only had six -- I don't know how many rebounds she had at halftime. Not very many. We really challenged her. For her to deliver on such a high level in the second half with her rebounding, I thought she really stepped up and did a really good job. I thought she was really confident from the start. Really proud of her.
Jordin and Monique, they sort of hold the torch. They know that they have to show up every single day, that we are playing around them. They may be the focal point, but you need every single person.
I think just like Samuelson and Collier and those guys were focal points, obviously Gabby Williams, you saw Chong, you need everybody all the time.
But they are, they're the pillars of sort of what we're building around. With great privilege, they get the most touches, most plays run for them. They also get the biggest wrath from me. Much is given, much is required.
They will need to carry that torch at an even higher level this off-season. Talking to Jordin the other day, I said, You're going to have to be the one that says, Hey, if you want to be ready -- I didn't say this, I said, If you want to be ready to be at your best, if you want to be ready for when UConn comes in our building, you're showing up at this time, doing this work. Anyone that wants to be ready, you better show up.
That's the kind of leadership that Monique and Jordin give us. We will go as they go.
Q. Your thoughts from a coaching perspective. How do you create a new team next season knowing you have some pieces leaving? Sounds like you have an idea of what you want the team to look like. There might be a different culture because they're new pieces. How do you balance that?
COACH CLOSE: I think it's about people and relationships. Every year is a new puzzle. Every year, it's not a scientific formula, it's an absolute art piece.
I don't think you can create a beautiful art piece without really knowing what you have. I think it's going to be a lot about caring about individuals, taking the time to invest if in them as young women, understanding how they fit together. We're not individual pieces that we're throwing together, we're really trying to build a complementary puzzle.
I don't think you can know that until you invest in the people. I think that's what we're doing. The mission of our program is to be an elite basketball program that teaches, mentors and equips young women for life beyond UCLA.
The reality of that is you have to know them in order to push them to that end. If we want to be an elite basketball program that's competing for a national championship every year, you got to do the work with the people. You got to invest in them sincerely, push them to grow. You can't push people to gears they don't even know they have if you don't have a relationship of trust. It will start there.
I have phenomenal assistant coaches and staff. It will be about, Hey, how do we adjust? We're not going to run always the same stuff and just recycle. We'll say, Hey, what puts our players in the best possible position? It's all about investing in relationships and player development.
Q. On Monday night, what do the Ducks have to do?
COACH CLOSE: I mean, the good news is that March, you have to have great guard play. Oregon has great guard play. They're going to have to read the screen and roll really well, handle all those switches. There's not a mismatch. A lot of times when people switch as much as they do, there's a mismatch you can exploit. I think that's going to be harder.
They're going to have to shoot the three well. They have to get enough stops that they can play up-tempo and shoot the three. I think they're going to have trade some threes and twos.
Their kids, they don't know they're young. I've been watching them all year grow. They just love playing together. It's going to be a tall challenge, but I'm excited to watch them compete.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time this weekend.
COACH CLOSE: Thank you all. I appreciate the media and how you guys are growing our game. Thank you and you guys keep it up.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports