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March 22, 2019

Russell Turner

Robert Cartwright

Max Hazzard

Evan Leonard

San Jose, California

UC Irvine - 70, Kansas State - 64

MODERATOR: We welcome UC Irvine to the dais. We have Max Hazzard, Robert Cartwright, and Evan Leonard. Coach, we'll have you do an opening statement, then we'll turn to questions to the student-athletes, dismiss them and go to questions to you.

RUSSELL TURNER: Thanks, everybody, for being here. As an opening statement, there's not much to say other than I'm incredibly proud of these guys up here on the dais with me but of each guy as a part of our team to reach this point in the tournament. We came into the game confident with belief that we could win, and I think that belief showed throughout the game, especially when we were down early, and we settled in. We made some defensive adjustments and changes and made the plays to come out on top.

We have incredible respect for Kansas State, the Big 12 champions. Those guys are getting rings, and we knocked them off. That's special for us, and sorry that they had to lose, but I'm really happy for the UC Irvine community.

MODERATOR: All right. Thanks, Coach. We'll open it to questions for the student-athletes.

Q. For the three players, what were your emotions when you realized that you were going to win this game?
ROBERT CARTWRIGHT: First of all, relief, but just elation. You know, we believed that we had a chance to win this game, and we prepared like we were going to have a chance to win this game and to win, and we made the plays necessary.

A lot of credit to Kansas State. They played really hard, and they made it really tough on us down the stretch. But we have a supreme belief in our group that we make the plays necessary to win in winning time, and the guys right here made unbelievable play after unbelievable play, and we did it when we needed to. So absolute ecstasy.

Q. Evan, defensively, what was the plan? You played some zone. Played what looked like even a little box and one. I know defense is one of your trademarks. Can you sum up what you guys were trying to do defensively against them?
EVAN LEONARD: We just had a great game plan. I feel like we were able to execute it. We sent them a lot of different looks, like you said. I'm not going to say too much because we got another game. That's about it.

Q. Max, dagger three after dagger three, hit the three right before the buzzer at the first half. What were you feeling out there knowing that it seemed like every shot you took was going in?
MAX HAZZARD: I just gotta credit my teammates and my coaching staff and everybody that came here today for believing in me. I put a lot of work in on my jumper time and time again, so I have a lot of belief in myself and my ability to shoot the ball.

So if I can get some space, and obviously I'm going to get good passes because I got great teammates, I like my chances to knock them down.

Q. For any of the players, one of two teams from California in the tournament. Only team from California left. What does that mean for you guys to be that last team standing from the state?
MAX HAZZARD: It's pretty cool. Yeah, it's definitely exciting, and we're going to keep trying to carry the torch and put on for Cali, but most importantly put on for the University of Irvine. So we're going to just keep doing what we're doing, keep following the game plan.

We got a great coaching staff. And we got something good going here. So we're going to keep the train going.

Q. Evan, back-to-back threes you had. You guys lead in the second half. What was going on to get that lead at that point? What did it do for you guys down the stretch?
EVAN LEONARD: I was trying to do my job. My second three I was able to get the rebound. I was able to come down. I had just made one. That basket got a little bigger for me after I made that first one. So I wanted to get one up, and good thing it went in.

Q. Max, you missed a three right before you hit the last for the corner, then you had a little pose. How cool was that for you? I mean, you talked the other day about your emotions, you play in emotion. That was pretty much the epitome of it, wasn't it?
MAX HAZZARD: For sure. I had missed a shot before, but when you're a shooter and just a basketball player in general, you kind of have to have a short memory. And I think I have that. And like I said before, I just play with a lot of passion and a lot of joy. The stage doesn't get much bigger than this.

So it's pretty cool to be here, especially with teammates that I love and a coaching staff I love, and I'm just trying to enjoy every second of it.

Q. Max, obviously there's a few guys on your team that come from rich basketball families, sort of grew up in the game. Does that do anything for the team, and I'm thinking especially in crunch time?
MAX HAZZARD: I'm not really sure. That's kind of a hard thing to gauge, but I know it does do something for us, just having them all here today, having them here in the stands. And for those that couldn't make it out, I know they're supporting us. And I know my grandfather is looking down on me and the rest of the squad, smiling, and that means a lot for me.

Q. Robert, I know it's just one play, but people talk about end of half situations. Max hits a shot at the end of the half. All of a sudden you're tied after -- which probably wasn't your ideal half of a season as a team. How did you feel at that point knowing you go in the locker room with that type of wind behind your back?
ROBERT CARTWRIGHT: We've been a resilient team all year. We know if we're down we have the guys and the character necessary to come back. But obviously it was a huge shot, and we trust Max to hit those kind of shots for us, and he did. And we just came into the locker room with a lot of confidence because we knew we didn't play our best half of the season.

And we really believed, look, we keep doing what the coaches stress, we can get this win. And if we keep executing play after play, we will have a really good shot at the end, and that's what we did.

Q. You guys were tied at 30 at the half. What did Coach tell you to kind of keep that energy up and ultimately have a great second half?
RUSSELL TURNER: Let's see what they remember (laughs).

ROBERT CARTWRIGHT: Well, Coach just wants us to keep executing, make sure that we don't let up in any single way. He made some adjusts. I can't reveal those, but we just come out, continue to do what we need to do every single play, and Coach made sure that we remember what the important things are to stress, and he just said keep working hard defensively, keep rebounding and stop them in transition and take away their threes, and that's what we did.

Q. Guys, sometimes it felt more like a home game than a neutral site. How much did that energy contribute to keeping it up?
EVAN LEONARD: That was definitely one of the things I noticed right off the bat, you know, the noise. I don't think I've ever been in an arena that was that loud. So at times it kind of made it hard, but, you know, like you said, it definitely felt like a home game, and a lot of our fans traveled with us. So we appreciate that so much.

Q. For any of the players, one of your teammates yesterday recalled before the season your coach saying that the goal this year was not just to make the tournament but to advance in the tournament. Does anybody remember that speech from before the season?
MAX HAZZARD: Yeah. We've had three goals all year, and that was to win the regular season championship, the tournament championship and advance in the NCAA Tournament. And that doesn't just mean one game. We have another game on Sunday, and we're planning to put ourselves in position to win again, and hopefully we can do that and play into next weekend.

MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks, guys. We'll turn the question to Coach Turner.

RUSSELL TURNER: Good job, fellas.

Q. Russell, this team has had a ton of depth all year, and first half Elston Jones came in there and stabilized things, turned things around. What can you tell us about him and his impact on this game?
RUSSELL TURNER: Elston is the Sixth Man of the Year in our conference, and we've seen him do many times we did tonight, when we play against a team from a Power conference like that, we have to be able to match their physicality, their size and strength.

And Elston was phenomenal on defense, in his pick and roll defense. He scored in the first half, but the defensive impact he has in protecting the rim and playing their guards in the pick and roll is special, and it doesn't get noticed very often.

But he was terrific. And I'm not surprised. You know, he was ready for this game, like our guys all were, I think, and embraced his role and attacked the game to make an impact, and he got it all done.

Q. What were you guys able to do to take Brown out of his game?
RUSSELL TURNER: Well, we drew an offensive foul. That's critical. And we knew, you know, the best way to defend guys who are great players is if you can get fouls on him. So you want to draw a charge. In that case we drew a push-off. I thought it was a clear push-off that Max drew, but he did a good job selling it, too, which is a big part of the things that we work on in certain situations.

We knew that we had to make a crowd around Brown and we had to do that repeatedly. We knew that there were a few specific things we wanted to take away from him, and for the most part we did that. But I thought he got discouraged a little bit with the second foul and being limited in the first half.

I would have done the same thing that they did in holding him out. In fact, I did that for the most part with Cartwright because I didn't want him to get his third, and we weathered the storm while he was out in the first half and gained some confidence when they missed a bunch of shots that they made to start the game.

Q. You've been building this thing for a while now. Does this feel like this is a long time coming to get this breakthrough in the tournament?
RUSSELL TURNER: I mean, yeah, in some ways it feels like it's a long time. In some ways it doesn't feel like it's been that long at all. We made the tournament in I think my fifth year. This is now the ninth, and it's really hard to make the tournament from our league. And we've been consistently good in our league, so we're proud of the sustained success that we've established, the type of guys we have, the type of program we have.

But we want to keep getting better. We have visions of potentially growing into something greater. You know, every player dreams of that. Every program sort of dreams of that. This was a big step toward that tonight. You know, UC Irvine, folks, I don't know, live in the shadow, live like little brothers to UCLA and SC and maybe some others, Cal, Stanford, San Diego State. Maybe like little brothers.

Well, little brother has been in the weight room, getting better, getting ready for a chance like this. So I'm really happy for these players to be able to work so hard for something everybody can see and then accomplish it. But I'm also really excited for the fans of our program who also seem to have endured feeling like little brothers. You know, we need to stick our chests out a little bit right now, I believe.

Q. Do you talk about that dynamic of where you guys kind of fall in the pecking order of teams in the state? Is that motivation at all?
RUSSELL TURNER: I spoke about it a few weeks ago because I wanted to draw attention to the fact that we were succeeding at the level we were, and I knew that was a gamble, because you could easily fall flat. And we could have easily lost in the Big West tournament like we did a year ago.

Or we could have easily come out here tonight against a Big 12 team like a lot of other 14 seeds did and get blown out. But we seemed to gain momentum with this group off of our confidence, and I think that's because we've earned it. And so that's fun, you know. It ain't bragging if you're doing it, Yogi Berra said.

Q. Was that a box in one in the end of the first half, and can you tell us how many different types of looks you gave them defensively that threw them off?
RUSSELL TURNER: Yeah. I mean, sort of. The answer to that is, yeah, sort of, the way we defend. You know, we always play great man-to-man defense. We have a two-three zone that we can, you know, shift in certain ways, and that's what we did tonight. And we've done that before. We also did that in the Big West Tournament championship game. So those guys probably saw that that might happen.

But the belief that our guys showed and the things that we asked for them to do to execute those defenses was outstanding. We played box in one for a little while in the first half when Brown was out, and mostly down the stretch we played our zone, our regular zone, and our guys did it the way we've worked on doing it, and we didn't do it that much in the regular season this year because of the matchups we had in our league. But we were able to do that in a big stage, in a big moment, against a team that was forced into a position of struggling because their best zone offensive player is hurt and out. You got a big guy that can pass in the zone, that's really valuable. We knew we wanted to use the zone in this game, maybe shift it some, but not overuse it. And I thought that's exactly the way it unfolded.

Q. What does this win mean to you, as a head coach of the organization? You talked about what it means to the players and the community, but having so many ups and downs throughout the years, what does this win, like how precious is it to you and just moving forward in the tournament, not even in the tournament, just in general in the future of your coaching career and everything in UCI? Can you just talk about that?
RUSSELL TURNER: I mean, yeah, I guess. I mean, yeah, it's special. It's special on a personal level with any goal that you set and reach. But it's not that more meaningful than others. You know, I've played in Division III. And when I was a player we accomplished what this team accomplished. Didn't mean any less then and there than it does for us here and now. It is gratifying to see how much our success means to so many people. That's gratifying on a personal level. But I know that that's the product of a lot of people working together, and believing. And it's kind of nice when your belief is validated.

MODERATOR: All right. Thanks, Coach.

RUSSELL TURNER: Thank you guys.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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