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December 22, 2018

Steve Alford

Kris Wilkes

Jaylen Hands

Las Vegas, Nevada

Ohio State 80, UCLA 66

THE MODERATOR: We welcome UCLA to the media room.

COACH STEVE ALFORD: I thought obviously a very good team that we played today. They do a lot of good things, both offensively and defensively, and I thought that offensively, I liked our shots that we got. We didn't make a lot, 4-for-18 from 3. We are normally a better shooting team than that, so we didn't make some shots there. Getting rid of them around the rim for a while, it happened late, and I really like what we did defensively in the zone in the first half.

Second half we just gave up way too many offensive rebounds. I think how we went about things, it was a much better effort than what it was Wednesday night when it snowballed. I thought we made some strides tonight, but against a very good team like this, you can't give them second opportunities; we gave them 15.

Our young guys have got to learn that, but it's finishing possessions. It's finishing 40 minutes of play, and you know, hopefully we can get back and get back to work after Christmas, but this was better than -- we had some strides here, and we got some guys that are working and learning and getting going through this grind. Today was much better.

Q. Two things that stood out were 12 turnovers in the first half and not making a lot of three-pointers. What were the issues with both those things, the first half turnovers and the 3-pointers?
KRIS WILKES: Honestly I think we just got too excited. We got the ball; we got careless. We got real happy. We got in the post a couple times and turned it over. I know I brought it to the rim a couple times and brought it low and turned it over. We were moving too fast. We didn't play at our pace and as far as the shots, I mean, we should have knocked down more open shots but you know, the game feels like that sometimes, and you know, we've just got to go to the gym and work it out.

JAYLEN HANDS: You know, not much you can see. Just got to get better. Make more shots, make smarter plays. Just be better.

Q. Why do you feel like you are on the trajectory of improvement now versus when the season started? What areas has the team grown?
KRIS WILKES: As far as the defensive-wise, I think our zone tonight was some of the best we did all year. I think the main part was rebounding.

Like Coach said, we didn't get a lot of offensive rebounds and I think that was mostly a lot of the guards up to the and a lot of us just looking at the ball and not getting it. We just have to work an the ball and we'll be good.

Q. You guys have lost three in a row; you're not used to that. How hard is that right now and what is it going to take to get it turned around?
JAYLEN HANDS: We just got to get back to practice, get back to the gym and compete with each other and come back out and fix it. We can't look in the past. We have one more game non-conference in the Pac-12, just working hard and getting better day-by-day.

Q. Kaleb Wesson is coming off a 31-point game. In preparing for Ohio State, how much did you focus on him, as opposed to maybe their guards?
KRIS WILKES: We did focus a lot on him. We know he threw it in the post a lot, but he didn't 30 tonight, I thought we did a decent job on him. I know he got a couple easy buckets. I know we played hard and we dug hard like we should have but I feel like we missed a lot of opportunities when we should have did it, as well.

Q. I know it was a tough game on Wednesday. What were the last two days like and what was your prep work like? Was it really heavy? Did you do some soul-searching?
JAYLEN HANDS: It was a quick turnaround, so got on the flight and did a lot of prep for Ohio State. You know, got together as a team and talked. We prepared hard. They didn't do anything out there that we haven't seen, so that's what the prep was like.

Q. There was talk in Ohio State's conference and them struggling with the zone against Syracuse. Is that something you noticed?
COACH STEVE ALFORD: They only lost one game and it happened to be Syracuse, and obviously Syracuse is going to throw 40 minutes at you that way. We've been working on it with our length. I think that's something we've got to continue getting better at.

I thought our slides, everything we were doing in our zone was pretty good. We obviously had some break downs, but most of the breakdowns in the zone tonight were off the backboards.

So we've got to get back to work after the break and the guys have to look at that and figure that out in our zone. I liked our -- we got some deflections. We got some steals out of our zone. I did like that.

Wesson is known to play man-to-man for a long period of time just because of the space that he takes up, but other than board play, it was pretty good.

Q. You got the good win against Notre Dame but the other major conference teams you've played against, you've lost. In your history as a close, when you enter into a Christmas break like this having lost those kind of games against big opponents, do you have concern over your players' collective mentality heading into Pac-12 play and them having the confidence that they can turn things around inside the league?
COACH STEVE ALFORD: Well, that's what we have to do a good job with. In 2015, we lost five in a row. We finished 7th in the Bahamas and got beat by Kentucky by 40, and that team ended up going to the Sweet 16. It's not like it can't be done.

Our league has not performed well. That's obvious. As a whole, our league has not done well out of conference, so we've got a lot of work to do from that standpoint because that year we had a little bit more, I think opportunities, in league play to get big wins, and this year out of conference, our league hasn't performed well.

We have to make sure by the time we get to Stanford and Cal week, the first week in January, we're a better basketball team. We have the makings of it. We have a lot of young guys, inexperienced, that hopefully this will help. I'm not seeing them not being confident. I loved the effort today. I loved the shot selection today. I'm probably just most disappointed in the board play because we should be a good rebounding team but now we've got to get back home.

We've got two weeks at home, so we'll play Liberty at home and then we get Stanford and Cal at home, so before we travel again, we've got to take care of business in those three games and get out of the conference ahead.

And so you know, the break will be good for them. It will be good for the staff and then when we resume, I think we're going to have a group of guys, they are starting to understand it. The teams we've gotten beat by are really good. Ohio State is 11-1. Cincinnati doesn't lose at home very often.

And we lost to a very good Belmont team; we were up 14 in the second half and we went from like 3-for-18 from the free throw line. That doesn't happen very often. If we make foul shots in that game, we win.

So those things happen. This was a tough trip as far as not getting the win. We did see some progression today and hopefully we can build on it.

Q. How is this team different from when it opened the season? In what areas do you see growth?
COACH STEVE ALFORD: Well, we're starting to see Cody getting more into it. I think he had like 25 minutes tonight. This is his seventh or eighth game as a college player, so he's starting to get a little more comfortable and we're getting more comfortable how we can use him.

Both coaches and players are getting more comfortable with him. Going to get Alex back hopefully by the end of next week, so now we get an experienced guy. Prince is the only player right now on our team with any experience at all, and now we get Alex back. So I think that will help.

We're just trying to figure out -- we're a three-point shooting team. That's been our efficiency. That's where we've been and a lot of our issues have been that we're not making enough, we're not shooting enough and then we're not getting the ball inside out enough from an offensive standpoint.

So I think we have to look at what our offense has to look like with this team and then just keep building on what we're doing defensively. I think we're seeing some growth defensively. Just the finishing of plays and being able to do it for two halves, that's been a concern the last two games.

Q. How have you processed some of the backlash and speculation about your future in the middle of this difficult stretch?
COACH STEVE ALFORD: There's no -- there's no issue with that with me. I just do my job as well as I possibly can and that's what I do every day. I'm a man of God, so I've got an audience of one, and I shoot it up every day, work as hard as I can for my guys and at the end of the day, if I know that I've prepared and worked hard, then that's what matters to me.

You know, obviously with its fans, whether it be at UCLA or anywhere else, you always have those opinions. That's what you're dealt and I totally understand that and I get that.

I'm a fan of basketball. I'm not happy. I'm not happy with our losses. I'm not happy with what happened Wednesday night and obviously not happy with getting a loss tonight, but we're working, we're grinding, trying to stay positive with a young group, an inexperienced group. Ohio State starts three seniors tonight that have experience. They have been there and done that and one kid is a fifth-year guy.

We're battling as hard as we can, and we get it. We understand it's UCLA. But when you've got -- we had six of them it was their first road game and it was at Cincinnati, that's not easy. No excuses, but I've just got to show some patience and I've got to be that leader for the group because right now, finding a leader on our team is hard because I'm not sure anybody is equipped to do it because of our youth.

As coaches, we have to believe in them. They have to know that we believe in them, and there's a good trust right now in our locker room among players and coaches. We hang in there and we keep grinding and that's what we can control. The other stuff, we can't control that, anyway.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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