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October 11, 2017
San Francisco, California
CORI CLOSE: Thank you all for being here and your hard work. We're so excited as a conference where we're going. But without all of you, those stories don't get told, and the enthusiasm doesn't come forth. So just appreciate all of you being here and all you do for the conference.
I'm obviously really proud and excited for our program, for the opportunities to pursue excellence that we have this year. This is the deepest team I've had since I've been there. I think we're going to be able to play a very fun, entertaining style, play up and down, press more, really try to generate some points off of our defense.
But just to, you know -- for me being able to watch these young women grow, and not only in terms of the stats you've heard but how they're growing in their leadership, that's really fun to watch.
We're just excited for the year and excited for the challenges that are coming for being in such a great conference.
Q. Coach, when these athletes were freshmen, you played the toughest pre-conference schedule in the country, and we had a lot of conversations about how that was a bricks-and-mortar experience. So here they are as seniors. What did you build out of that?
CORI CLOSE: Well, I think we're going to have the No. 1 preseason conference in the country. This year, too, I would not be surprised if it shook out that way. But it's like anything else, you know, when we meet really tough challenges in life, you have to figure out. So are you going to go around the wall, through the wall, over the wall? What's it going to be?
And I think because they really embrace those challenges in this group and they believed in a vision that really didn't have any substance behind it, when they came in, and they had to be a part of the ones that built that substance, I think that they've been -- they've gained so much perseverance. They've gained so much character because they've had to find ways around the wall, through the walls, and maintain that vision.
So at the time, it really wasn't very fun, and I probably would have made some adjustments. Hindsight's always 20/20.
But I'm not sure I can argue with what the character and perseverance has brought out in these young women.
Q. Monique and Jordin, you guys got here as freshmen and you have that opportunity to look ahead and all the things you hope will happen for your career. Now you're sitting at the edge of your last season, and I'm wondering what you're thinking about what you want to accomplish this season. And can you believe that you're here looking at your last season?
MONIQUE BILLINGS: I don't want to look back at the season and say, oh, if this would have done this or if this would have happened. I don't want any what-ifs. I just want to give it my all, have fun, and play really hard, and I want to rise up (indiscernible).
JORDIN CANADA: Like Mo said. But most definitely want to get to the Final Four. That's a goal of ours. We want to take it one day at a time. Especially for me, this being my last year. Just want to embrace every moment that I have with my teammates, my coaches, and just enjoying my last year here.
Q. For all of you, I can't believe Kari Korver's name is not on my roster any longer --
CORI CLOSE: We can't either.
Q. You know, she was that first kid on the court, you go out and she's just shooting, and I know she pushed you guys. Who tries to fill her shoes a little bit, or do you force her to come back in every once in a while?
CORI CLOSE: Well, she is around, thankfully. That's a nice thing. But I think that's the standard that was set. Your leaders are your hardest workers. As you grow, there is a reason that she performed as consistently and she had the respect of her teammates.
But I have really enjoyed watching other people step into that. They know if you want to reach your potential, that that's the standard that's been set.
I think that's something that's been really fun to watch Jordin and Monique, over their careers, really dive into what does it take to be elite? What's it take to be ready? What is the work -- we say, what is the work that has to happen in the dark to be ready when the lights come on?
I think that's not just Kari Korver anymore. It's most of our team. If you walk into our practices before any of them start, that's what you're going to see. I think there's a lot of credit that goes to her, because there was a while that she was the only one, that Kari was.
That's one of the biggest credits we can give to her leadership, is that she's not anymore; that a lot of people have embraced the work ethic of what it takes in the dark to be ready for the light.
Q. Jordin and Monique, I was wondering if you could tell us about your experience with Team USA winning the Four Nations Tournament, that U24 tournament, I believe you played on the U23 team, so playing up a little bit in age there. And also for you, Coach Close, you see not only Jordin and Monique playing with the National Team, but Ally playing with the Israeli team. And then some former Bruins, Fields being named MVP of the FIBA Women's America, and then Atonye Nyingifa winning AfroBasket with Nigeria. So what do all of these experiences with the international teams do for your program?
CORI CLOSE: Absolutely. You guys go ahead first.
JORDIN CANADA: Well, Team USA was a lot of fun, just being able to play with some of the best players in the country, playing with them and against them during the trials. It's just so much fun. You learn so much from them, what you can get better at, and then they learn from you as well. So just being part of that whole experience was an honor.
Then playing against Canada, Japan, and Australia. It's just so much fun to see the talent all over the world. And playing against that is just so much fun.
MONIQUE BILLINGS: I definitely agree with Jordin, just being able to play against the toughest competitors, that the mentality was just bold, win. That simple. I think that's something we brought back to our program, get the job done (indiscernible).
CORI CLOSE: It's just really fun to watch basketball make the world smaller and to see how all these relationships that they're talking about, all the experiences and how their game has grown by being able to play all over the world.
So the alumni that are getting to -- I remember when I recruited Nirra Fields, what a dream it was for her to represent her country and Team Canada and what she sacrificed to be able to do that. So to watch her continue to grow. I got this nice email from the National Team coach about the incredible growth she'd seen in her over the last year.
So Atonye, I've never seen her smile that big. Something about representing your country. We have so many countries represented, there's something about that. I just love to see the pride in their eyes.
I obviously got to watch them. I was a giddy coach when they both made the team. I happened to be at training camp when they made that team. I also knew what they committed to. A lot of coaches asked me, Are they excited about the opportunity? Yeah, they want this bad. And they prepared for that in such a way.
It was really fun to watch them. The trials was like a WNBA combine. It was amazing. And several WNBA coaches were there to take in the talent.
But I think -- I don't have kids of my own, but if I had kids, there is something about watching your kids experience really good things. And that's what I've really enjoyed, is just watching them. Of course, it does great things for our program, but that's secondary from watching them reach their dreams.
Q. You guys have so much experience returning. You're picked to win the title. What about some of your newcomers? And is Lajahnja healthy now and ready to go? Can you talk about some people that will be adding more talent?
CORI CLOSE: How do you guys think the freshmen have added? You're the ones that have talked about them. I can fill in the blanks.
MONIQUE BILLINGS: I'm really excited for our newcomers because they come in and work hard. It's that simple. They add a lot to our program and our practices and stuff, and there is no drop off. I feel like every single day they're improving and getting a lot better. They're putting in the time and the work to get better.
JORDIN CANADA: And they're very versatile. Every single one of them are completely different in personalities, the way they work. The positions that they play, they're just very versatile, and I think that's what we need on our team, and I think that's what we have in general.
Laj is going to be another asset to our team. She brings out that aggressiveness every single day, and she's working hard as well. We're all working hard. I think the freshmen are going to have a huge impact on our team, and Laj is going to be one as well.
MONIQUE BILLINGS: We're excited to add Japreece too. Got to shout Japreece out too. She transferred.
CORI CLOSE: Yeah, Lajahnja is a huge thing for us. Rebounding I think was probably the determining factor. We had an eight-minute period in our Sweet Sixteen game that we didn't get a rebound, and that was the turning point. Outside of that eight-minute segment, which you can't have at that level, but Lajahnja's never had an eight-minute segment where she didn't get a rebound.
So I'm excited to have her back and healthy. She also has a new maturity about her. She's expanded her range, so that really helps someone like Monique, for instance. They can play off of each other a lot when we can spread the floor out, combined with their athleticism.
We lost a lot of joy in our senior class last year. A lot of fun spirit. A lot of just joy is the word that comes to mind. There was a laughter, and I didn't really know where that was going to come from. I was a little worried about it. I think we are pleasantly surprised to say that our freshmen have unexpectedly brought this sort of really fun, bold joy. They're really unafraid. They really go after things, and they're mature beyond their years.
I'd say specifically Chantel Horvat from Australia has really stepped in. She's very competitive. She's just really never met a challenge that she didn't think she could conquer.
I'd say Michaela Onyenwere, she's so athletic and versatile. She could be giggling one moment and rip your head off the next. She's got a really diverse skill set.
Kayla Owens and Lauryn Miller have brought great things as well. Their voices and their game will be heard this year.
Q. We talked a little bit earlier, expectations and the poll again. You've been chosen to win the Pac-12 Conference for a second consecutive season. Last year, expectation was a lot. Didn't win the conference in the regular season or the tournament. Now I'm wondering, all three of you, what did last year's experience teach you that you can use here in 2017-18.
JORDIN CANADA: Our conference is very packed. So the expectations of us last year winning the regular season and the Pac-12, you can't really get too deep into that. Obviously, it's a great honor, and it's good to have the expectation. But you're going to have to fight every single night with every single team. Nothing is handed to you. You have to earn it.
I think that's what I've learned this past year going into this year. You have to fight for every rep, every loose ball. You have to go after it because it's not going to be given to you. You have to earn it.
But, yeah, the expectations is an honor to be selected to win again. It's not about talking, it's about your actions. So we have to go out there and prove ourselves.
MONIQUE BILLINGS: I totally agree with Jordin. I'm ready to go get it done. I have a bitter taste in my mouth from games that we lost that we shouldn't have lost. This is the fight, and I'm ready to fight. I think that we're battle tested as a team.
It's weird being in a new position. We're seniors now and the younger players are looking to us where things aren't maybe going right or things are rocky and challenging, they're looking to us to make things easier and to clear the path for them.
That used to be us. We used to look to our seniors to do that. So now that's our challenge, and I'm ready to step up to the challenge.
CORI CLOSE: I think this group has high expectations for themselves. So I'm not sure anything from the outside can match what we place on ourselves every day.
So that's the key factor for us staying focused on our process, is that if the expectations of the outside world are greater than what you have for yourself, then it's easy to get distracted by those or maybe to rest in those. But when your expectations are higher internally than they ever could be externally, both in the individual accountability and the long-term potential of your squad, I think that's a pretty good formula. I think their leadership will be a big piece of that.
Q. Jordin and Mo, I'm curious if you could give us one or two of the biggest ways you've grown both on the court and off the court. I'm assuming you're very proud of yourselves, but I want to know what ways you've seen that growth.
STUDENT-ATHLETE: On the court I would say mental toughness for me personally. I feel like I really made strides in that at the USA camp, because that was hard. I didn't want to think about how hard it was because everyone around me was like, I'm tired, I'm tired. But I didn't want to put that out there. I didn't want to put that energy out there. I wanted to remain consistent. I knew everyone was tired, I was tired, but I had to keep going.
I wanted to bring that into this season because everyone's being tired at a certain point. But you have to fight through it and keep pushing to achieve what you want to achieve.
Off the court, I'm graduating early, and I'm really excited about that.
STUDENT-ATHLETE: For me, I would just say my confidence level and getting my teammates involved. My first two years, not saying that I was selfish, but I didn't really read the floor well. I wasn't making smart enough decisions. The past year I think I focused more on putting my teammates in positions to be successful and just reading the defense more.
Off the court, I would say trying to be more outgoing. I'm very shy, so I don't really speak much. I don't like to do a lot of stuff. So just trying to put myself out there and get to know people and make new friends and all that.
CORI CLOSE: Captain of the ship, right?
Q. We talked, Coach, about Rosenblum and Lajahnja Drummer. I'm wondering what we can expect from Lindsey Cosaro and her contributions expected this year.
CORI CLOSE: It's great to have her be healthy, even as she gets more and more confident, because really she is a freshman, but she's mature and her basketball IQ is really high. Sometimes it's easy to forget that.
But as she gets more and more comfortable, she's also a really good three-point shooter, and I think that's going to be a key factor. If we want to play north and south and really attack the paint, we're going to need some people to widen out those driving lanes and be able to stretch defenses.
Her ability to be a big guard and use her IQ to make people better. But she's also a really good driver. She's strong and not afraid of contact when she gets in the lane. She's going to be a really big factor for us to play the way we want to play. She's also vocal on the court. As Jordin referred to, she's become more vocal, but it's nice to have someone to share the load with.
Kelli Hayes is a big piece of that, too, in terms of being a vocal leader that understands expectations and those kind of things. So she's a big piece of stepping into that new role of using her IQ and her vocal leadership to help make Jordin's job a little bit easier.
Q. You always have a very challenging non-conference schedule. Your last game, UCLA a year ago, you lost to UConn. Now you're playing them, you're undefeated at home, right, last year? What would it mean to beat them early in the season or just beat them? How would that impact your team?
JORDIN CANADA: Great question, and I would love to answer it. But we have to focus the previous teams we're going to be playing, so Baylor and --
Q. (Off microphone.)
JORDIN CANADA: No, I understand your question. But I can't answer that for you because I don't want to get too ahead of UConn because we have games to play at home. That's more important than UConn right now. We have to focus on San Jose State and Presbyterian and Baylor. So those are the games that we have to focus on leading up to UConn.
So we can't lose those games, because those games are at home. So it's more important about our team and what we need to focus on day-by-day. When we get to UConn, we'll get to UConn.
MONIQUE BILLINGS: Well said, Jordin.
Q. (Off microphone)?
JORDIN CANADA: Not me.
CORI CLOSE: Not me. Monique?
MONIQUE BILLINGS: I enjoy cooking. I have a Pinterest, so like I'll make casseroles. We got to talk, because I really love to cook.
CORI CLOSE: So who are the best cooks? You? Kelli Hayes?
MONIQUE BILLINGS: Kelli can Cook. Japreece can cook. I've never had her food, but --
CORI CLOSE: Word on the street?
MONIQUE BILLINGS: I've seen her Snapchats. She can cook.
CORI CLOSE: Chantel can cook. Her family says she's pretty good at cooking, so you might need to invite her over.
MONIQUE BILLINGS: Maybe.
CORI CLOSE: There you go.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports