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March 22, 2018

Cori Close

Kansas City, Missouri

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by head coach, Cori Close from UCLA. Coach, welcome and congratulations on a great season.

CORI CLOSE: Thank you. It's great to be here and thank you for all the media coverage, all the people doing the work behind the scenes. I know these events don't go off the way I know this will without a lot of people's sacrifices, so we appreciate it. We're excited to be here, excited to compete. I think it's going to be a great match-up and we're very grateful.

Q. You were a point guard in college, a very good one. We've got some really good ones here with these four teams. Can you talk about what it means to be a college point guard especially at this level of the tournament when you are in the Sweet 16? And also, in particular with yours, Jordin, and how much she has meant to this program?
CORI CLOSE: Thank you, Michelle, for mentioning me in the realm of these point guards here. I don't know if I'm in their league, but I do think being a point guard especially at this level, I think I probably wouldn't be a coach if I not hadn't been influenced to have to think the game as well as play the game in very intense situations.

I think at this level that coaches do not determine what happens as much as point guards do. Point guards have to be able to communicate in the most pressurized moments. They have to be able to direct. They have to be able to prevent things. They have to be able to make plays. They have to have a sense of what their team needs from them.

Really it starts with them on both ends of the floor. Specifically with Jordin Canada. I'm not sure you're going to find a more complete point guard. Obviously I'm biased because I work with her every day but if you look at the numbers and watch her play and watch her influence on all of the dimensions of the game, I think she is spectacular. I watch film with her every week and now I'm not leading the film sessions, she is. What are our best looks here? What would you have wanted to see different in this situation? And we're really talking the game, and I am learning as much from her as I hope she is learning from me. So her intellect and her ability to understand the game I think is first.

Then her ability on defense to be able to guard multiple people. We've done a lot of switching this year and we have never once gotten beat with her switching on to a post player. She'll find a way to do what she needs either on the ball or away from the ball to help our team get a stop. And then offensively, I used to say her weakness was her outside shooting; and now she's been shooting are over 40% from the three-point most of the year and her assist to turnover ratio. There was a couple of years ago she had a dream to be a top-5 level draft pick and we looked at every point guard in the top-5 for the last several years and we had their statistics down.

I was in a home visit the other day and I pulled that sheet out and she has met or exceeded those statistics on all three fronts. I'm proud of not only the basketball player she is but how she has grown as a leader, and I do think she is a complete point guard at this point.

Q. Coach, I want to ask you about two players. Japreece three years ago was a big star in my town. Lashann Higgs, exact same thing. Did you recruit both of them? If you did, what were your thoughts as a recruiter? If not, then what did you like about Japreece coming out of Texas Tech.
CORI CLOSE: Absolutely, but actually it's funny. I recruited Lashann Higgs. I didn't recruit Dean out of high school, so I have a better knowledge of Higgs in terms of her growing-up years and in terms of watching her play. Loved her mid-range game her ability to guard. It's been documented we played each other in a closed scrimmage earlier this year and I just was impressed with her improvement.

We wanted her. We would have loved the chance to have had her out to California and she is a really good player and Texas is lucky to have her. I did recruit her out of high school. Japreece, I did not. When she became available and we were in need of another point guard I went and watched all of her film at Texas Tech and her ability to be creative with the ball, she is fearless, has great instincts. She loves the game of basketball. She is all over social media like most kids these days and she'll post something with two computers and a TV going with three different games. She just can't get enough. I think this day and age that's really a lost art and I think that Japreece's love of the game is what leads to her creativity of the game. It was a great find by us and I'm really, really thrilled she is a Bruin.

Q. Coach, obviously UMBC got a lot of talk with the upset last weekend against Virginia, but in the women's tournament with the 3 seeds it's difficult with Florida State, Ohio State, Tennessee losing for the first time every at home. What does that say about women's college basketball, the upsets and the competitiveness?
CORI CLOSE: I think that's a good news/bad news. Obviously, I used to coach at Florida State so I was tuned into that game. It made us nervous. We were the last game and our players were aware of that. They were talking that, hey, we will not be that team. Lock in, execute our game plan and we were very aware.

But in a global sense, I'm thrilled for our game that there's more and more players and more and more teams playing at a higher and higher level.

You know, I think the women's game, actually Michelle and I have talked about this before, but we have got to be committed to things bigger than ourselves and there has been talk through this tournament about exposure and thank you all for covering our game. But we need those competitive games. We need more and more teams to bring that kind of excitement. It's really important that all of us in our women's game, all the way down to grass roots is having a mindset of how can we grow the game? How can we grow interest? The bottom line is it affects young girls' lives. It's not just about exposure and not just about money. The statistics don't lie. It makes a difference in the lives of girls to be involved in sports at this kind of level. We need to be committed to continue to grow the game and this kind of tournament, having parity, upsets, exposure, communication about it, that's really important for us.

Q. Texas is obviously an exceptional rebounding team. What's the message for you guys to be able to compete on that stage?
CORI CLOSE: They are exceptional. It wasn't just from their bigs. Their guards, Ariel Atkins, Lashann Higgs, all of them are great rebounders. I think we know what we're going to get from our forwards, Lajahna Drummer, Monique Billings, Michaela Onyenwere, Lauryn Miller, all of those people have to rebound a high level and cumulatively. The key factor for us is going to be Chantel Horvat, Kennedy Burke. If we're playing zone our guards being able to rebound on the backside. For us to be able to mitigate that advantage and their strength of theirs all of our guards are going to have to be involved in rebounding every single possession.

Q. Obviously, in this tournament format you can play two games in two days. You've done that a couple times this year where you played Baylor, UConn within three days and a couple times in conference against top-25 teams. How can those familiar experiences help you out?
CORI CLOSE: That happens a lot in the Pac-12. That's where the structure of the Pac-12 helps you because the rhythms of that are something that we're really used to and there are so many good teams. I think we have the most teams in the regionals or above right now and we have for the last several years, so this is a normal thing. I do think it gives our players a lot of confidence. This is what we do. This is what we prepared for. These are the rhythms in which we are used to, but at this point you better be glad you're playing or you're not going to be playing any longer. You better be competing. No excuses. I don't care if you've had five days in between or one day in between you have to have the mental stamina and the desire to prepare at a level to get yourself ready and that's how you earn the right to prepare again.

Q. Cori, if you look at these two programs, there is a long gap between UCLA Sweet 16 appearances until this senior class, you coming in and the senior class. With Karen in Texas it was the same way, about a decade. Can you compare the two programs? They had to regenerate themselves.
CORI CLOSE: First of all, I give Karen so much credit. A lot of people have compared our careers. We were assistants for a long time. We had a chance to take over programs that did have a rich history.

You know, try to honor that history but at the same time build on it. I think actually her and I have talked about this, what a privilege! What a privilege to be able to honor people that really blazed the trail, that really, you know. Denise Curry is with us on this trip. Ann Meyers was at our last game. I know the history of Texas people and what she has done to bring back and invest in the history of Texas, and I think there has got to be a sense of humility and pride that we get to walk in the path they blazed and we get to honor them by building upon it.

I can't speak for her on this, but that was a big motivator for me when I went back to UCLA. Coach Wooden poured into my life for 15 years and I got to be mentored by him; and Annie Meyers I've known since I was an athlete at UC Santa Barbara. These alums have come back and we had just as many men's basketball alumni at our second round game as women. There is a privilege and humility of being able to build on a path that was so courageously blazed. It's a privilege. It's the first time actually in UCLA history that we've gone to three straight Sweet 16s. Mostly that credit goes to the choices of these courageous young women. But to be a part of maybe even a small part of leading that charge, it's humbling and I'm deeply grateful for the legacy that came before me.

Q. Coach, outside of UConn, Baylor has been the biggest bully on the block, so to speak. I mean that in a nice way. How did you guys beat Baylor?
CORI CLOSE: We shot the ball really well. They tried to go under screens and Jordin Canada was just really good on reading the ball screen and we got high-percentage shots and we were able to mix our defenses. They're so good when they get into a rhythm at getting Kalani Brown on getting touches and we were able to mix our defenses and make things hard for their guard play.

At that point they had a lot of new guards. That was the fourth game of the year, really early on and their guard play was very young outside of Kristy Wallace. I think we took advantage of that a little bit. We trapped some ball screens, went zone, you know. We did a lot of things that tried to make it difficult for them to find the rhythm to find Kalani Brown on a consistent basis. We didn't outrebound them and she scored points, so I can't even image why I'm saying that. I was like we did a heck of a job. We held her to 33, but we were able to make their guard decisions difficult and we got into our transition game and turned them over a few times. We have to win the possession game to be successful and we didn't win it on the rebounds, but I think we won it on the turnover margins if I remember correctly. But that made a big difference.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach. Good luck tomorrow.

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