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March 23, 2018

Cori Close

Monique Billings

Kennedy Burke

Jordin Canada

Kansas City, Missouri

UCLA - 84, Texas - 75

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the UCLA Bruins, Coach Cori Close, her student-athletes, Jordin Canada, Kennedy Burke and Monique Billings. Coach?

CORI CLOSE: The joy I got to see in these players' faces was priceless. I'm not sure I've seen Jordin and Monique smile that big, but at the same time the seniors on the other side, Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty are trailblazers. We're lucky to get to play on, but I want to credit them for how they have raised that program. Karen has been nothing but classy with me. This means a lot to us and this program, but I want to take a second to express my respect for those two seniors and what they have done for Texas basketball.

We knew that Monique and Jordin would show up big. We knew that. They've been consistent all year long at being dependable and showing up and giving their best when they're best is needed, but I knew it was going to come down to other people. This one right here. I thought she was the difference in the game, her aggression, her confidence, her ability to communicate with her teammates and influence plays. I thought Dean's defense was key for us and we were able to mix our defenses because of how well she was playing. Michaela Onyenwere coming in and giving us a lift as well as rebounding by Laj.

I know that's a lot of people, but that's what we needed, other people to is step up and support Jordin and Monique for us to move on and courageous for the three seniors who were able to dream big and work big to put us in the position to be able to compete to have an opportunity to play in the Final Four.

Q. Jordin, your 0 for 5 in the first half, 2 points, what changed for you in the second half and could you speak to two years ago you were in the same position, same game against Texas and lose that one when they come out in the second half and make that run. Do you have a flashback to that game two years ago? Seemed like that's when the switch was flipped for you?
JORDIN CANADA: Speaking on 0-5 I let the game come to me. My shots weren't falling so I tried to get my teammates involved in the first half and in the second half let everything come to me. When they came out on their run I don't have any doubt. We've been here before. We've been through adversity. We know the game is a game of runs. We know they're going to go on a run but it's about how we stay composed and I thought that was the difference between this time and two years ago was that we were able to stay together as a team and play team ball and there wasn't any one individual, everybody stuck together through that adversity and that was the difference.

Q. Monique, a lot was made of the turnovers you guys were able to force and I think you outrebounded them tonight. Where did that defensive mindset come from and were you surprised you were able to create that havoc throughout the course of the game?
MONIQUE BILLINGS: We knew that was our strength coming into the game so we knew we were going to rely on our defense and defense was going to carry over to offense and we wanted to set the tempo early with our defense. I thought our guards did that, pressuring the ball and Texas guards didn't want anything to do with our pressure. I think that's where it started.

Q. Kennedy, preparing for that game you have played them two times. How do you mentally prepare for that in like maybe the Oregon game where the same scenario occurred and there was a balanced effort on all sides, is that something you talked about before the game?
KENNEDY BURKE: Obviously after the Pac-12 tournament we focused on taking one practice at a time. Like coming into this tournament we were like really, really focused on that and then just following the game plan, staying focused together.

Q. Monique, this program hasn't been in this position, the Elite Eight since 1999 I'm not sure if any of you guys were born then! But after losing in this round the last two years what does it mean for you guys as seniors and this program to have this break through moment?
MONIQUE BILLINGS: It was starting to feel like Groundhog Day, so we had to turn that around. That's what we did. That's what we came to UCLA to do, I can speak for the seniors, Jordin and I, that was our vision. It's been a journey and we're not done yet. We can't get too high from this game. It's exciting, but we have to focus on the next game and the next match-up, Mississippi State.

Q. Monique, for give me for moving ahead to Sunday, but you guys have faced some big post players including Kalani Brown, and others, but Teaira McCowan had a big night tonight. When you go against players like that who maybe have a lot of size on you, you maybe have quickness, what do you try to do?
MONIQUE BILLINGS: Try to use my advantage against them. I like to run. Tonight was a that can meet and I plan on having another one on Sunday night, and she is a great post player, picking her up early, know where she is on the floor and never lose sight of her and focus on rebounding.

Q. Jordin, what talk did you have with yourself at halftime and what adjustments did you make at halftime? How are you preparing for Sunday?
JORDIN CANADA: I just try to stay composed. I'm the head of the team. People tell me I'm the captain of the ship and everyone is feeding off my energy. No matter how bad of a game I'm having in the first half, whether my shots are falling or not I have to stay composed through adversity and let the game come to me. There was no adjustment. I tried to stay composed and consistent throughout the whole game.

Come Sunday, Mississippi State is a great team. They have lost one game this whole year, so we know it's going to be a battle. But I think it comes down to us and what we need to do to execute our game plan and staying together as a team and doing what makes us great and playing to our strengths and I think that's what it's going to take for Sunday.

THE MODERATOR: Ladies, thank you. Questions for Coach?

Q. Coach, I know you said you thought Kennedy Burke was the difference, but when they take the lead for the first time in the game and Jordin scores the next 9 of 11 for you and her ability to get out in transition and pressure them and in a minute to go she makes that circus shot over her head. How good was Jordin Canada tonight?
CORI CLOSE: She is good in all facets. Today in the second half you see the spectacular, but you have heard how she has grown in her leadership, the mentality, her basketball IQ, her poise, her defense away from the ball as well as on the ball, her ability to shoot the three. I thought that was key. She was able to get to the rack later on because she hit the open threes out of transition. I think she has been so deliberate to work on all facets of her game.

I think she is just hitting her stride. I think she is going to be a better pro than she is a college player. I've said that for a long time but she is a complete player. I was proud of her because it sorta was, I agree with Monique, it sorta was Groundhog Day. Jordin was struggling to get going and so was Brooke McCarty. Last time she tried to put everyone on her back, and that is when everyone panics is when she said I've got to do this by myself. I thought she showed so much maturity and I know I'm biased but I believe she is the most complete point guard in the country.

Q. A few minutes ago, the end of the drought for the Elite Eight was alluded to and another UCLA coach won his first national basketball championship here. Could you talk about the significance of not only ending the Elite Eight drought but doing it in a city that has historic significance to UCLA basketball?
CORI CLOSE: I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know that and honestly that's really humbling. Coach Wooden mentored me for 15 years. I could get choked up talking about it but the best message I've gotten is Nan Wooden called me after our second round game and left a message and said, "Daddy would have liked watching this team and Daddy would have been proud of you."

That would be such an honor to be able to do that. Forget me as a coach, my life has been deeply affected by him and his influence and his time. That's really humbling. Right now my focus is just serving these young women. Coming up with the best game plan, trying to spend the time to get our mental space and emotional space in the right level place and I'm just absolutely thrilled to be able to have an opportunity to work with and for them for another day.

Q. Coach, it seems like you all have grown even since ten days ago. Can you comment on that if you feel that way, what you attribute that to, is there chemistry happening?
CORI CLOSE: It's interesting opinion I think that we always challenge our team in one form or another, to every day you show up, you have to be committed to give and to grow. It's never about one person. It's never about you. I remember at the very beginning of the year I said this year will come down to are we willing to put the team above ourselves and do with we have an "I will" mentality. I will prepare and I can be counted on. I think that's exactly what has happened the last ten days. I think everybody has shown up going how can I grow more? How can I grow maybe two more possessions in the next ten days.

That's the interesting thing about the women's game you have time between the conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament and if you didn't win your tournament some things got exposed at a high level and as disappointing as it was I think our players were willing to look in the mirror and go okay there is no pity pond here. You can swish your feet in the pity pond but it's time to get out and grow and get after it. That's exactly what they did.

Q. Before the game, you talked about how it was important for guards to step up and rebound. You had rebounds from Jordin and even Japreece and Kennedy. How important was that?
CORI CLOSE: It was huge especially because we played so much zone. Those shots that take place and we're on the strong side, that guard is the one that's gotta go -- the weak side guard has to box out Hosey or Ariel Atkins coming from the weak side of the floor. We had crashed the weak side. I didn't want to start in zone because I thought they would be aggressive playing north to south and if we could force uncomfortable shots and get them out of rhythm and I didn't expect to play it as much as we did and the reason was I was worried about our guard rebounding. They did a heck of a job. I thought that Japreece and Jordin and Kelli Hayes gave us strong possessions. So I think it was the reason our guard rebounding was the reason we could stay in that zone as long as we did.

Q. Cori, there were two upsets by Pac-12 teams with Oregon State and you guys. I wonder if you could address that because it's been a very good tournament for the Pac-12 and your initial thoughts on the match-up with Mississippi State and the difficulty of facing Teaira McCowan.
CORI CLOSE: Yeah, I think the first part of your question being about the Pac-12, it makes you a better coach, it makes you a better team. It prepares you for March. We've been saying that all of us from 1 to 12 about how we make each other better.

We had three overtimes in the last couple weeks of the season. It's just, you know, really the varied styles of play and all at such a high level. You have to prepare so differently on multiple occasions and we play this format in our conference. I think that is an advantage. We play this format. We're used to quick, one-day turnarounds. When I coached in the SEC it was very new to have a one-day turnaround, that almost never happened any other time during the year.

So the combination of the elite and depth of play in the Pac-12 as well as the format and the styles of play I think really -- all of us coaches talk about it gives us crate confidence going into March and the numbers haven't lied for the last three years the Pac-12 teams have done well in March and we're thankful to the whole Pac-12 and the Pac-12 Networks for how much exposure they give us and we're able to keep recruits home that's been a huge thing.

My initial thoughts on the match-ups, is I've got a lot of film to watch. We should have brought Tony in for that; he has the scout. This year we played Texas in the close scrimmage and last year we played Mississippi State in the closed scrimmage.

So there is some familiarity. Vic does such a great job. His defense has always been spectacular on the perimeter and for him to add a rim protector like Teaira McCowan. Can we hit enough jump shots? Can Monique hit enough jump shots to be able to pull her away from the basket because then we can get other match-ups going and it will be varied styles. They were shooting the three so well and they shoot a lot of them and that's what also makes you spread out and it's going to be very important that not only do we chase 'em off the three-point line but we control possessions and rebounds and that's how we can get out and use our speed.

If we to take it out of the net all the time because they're executing and getting high-percentage shots or open threes, it's going to be hard to use our advantage of letting it be, as Mo said, a track meet.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thanks so much.

CORI CLOSE: And thank you guys for covering all of us.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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