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March 17, 2023

Cori Close

Los Angeles, California, USA

Pauley Pavilion

UCLA Bruins

Media Conference

CORI CLOSE: Thanks, you all, for being here. Just I feel like we are so late. You know, it's like, let's go, let's go. But just so thankful, thankful for all of the people in the UCLA athletic department that worked so hard to put us in a position to host. Thank you to the committee and for the other members of administrations across the country, the NCAA, that put on this great event.

This is -- you know, I have been doing this 30 years, and it just never gets old. It's just such a special, special experience. And you know, so just really grateful and excited to get out there and compete.

We have great opponents here in our arena. We are looking forward to a great turnout. I hope So Cal, this is the only place you can see live NCAA basketball in southern California. We just hope that we not only get a chance to expose a lot of people to women's basketball, but we just get a chance to grow our game.

Q. Coach, how nice is it to be able to share this experience this with the men's team, all you have going through March Madness together?

CORI CLOSE: So many layers to that. Number one, the men's staff and team are great guys. And we really have enjoyed just the camaraderie we felt. Obviously it's at a heightened amount with Gabriela Jaquez and Jaime Jaquez and just that shared experience, what a phenomenal family.

But you know, I was rooting hard yesterday and just so excited to celebrate their success. And I think we really have a shared formula of success that it really is about toughness and togetherness. It's been fun to watch what that looks like and plays out for the men. I'm really excited to showcase what that's going to look like for us as well.

Q. Did you have a watch party yesterday?

CORI CLOSE: We didn't. I was separate on my own. I actually was watching with a couple of our donors that were not able to make that trip up there. So I had a great time doing that.

But the realty is is that I know every single one of our players are keenly tuned in.

Q. Cori, what's it been like seeing Charisma's development this year because she was able to go back to shooting guard, but kind of the sage veteran on the team of youngsters?

CORI CLOSE: Yeah. I think, you know, I think the emotional maturity that I have seen her develop as well as the leadership qualities, that's been the most rewarding for me to watch.

That will carry with her into her pro career and far beyond after the ball goes flat. And you know, then she's so proud to represent southern California. And you know, a Windward kid and just, you know, but also her work ethic. It's not been easy. She's battled some injuries. We have obviously had a lot of adversity through Covid.

And I just think her work ethic, her drive, her perseverance is really coming into play at this point. So she really is our seasoned veteran. She's the only one that's been through this really at this kind of level and in this kind of ^ roll ^ role and just really thankful for her steadiness and the confidence in which she's earned.

Q. What's been the biggest change or evolution in her game that you have seen this year?

CORI CLOSE: Well, I think, you know, I think that she sort of started out like gangbusters, right? And she was really shooting the three well. But I think she hit a tough spot in the middle where maybe she was relying on that a little too much and then was pressing to get that back instead of just being a really efficient player who uses everything in her toolbox. She's a great three level scorer. She was not getting to the free throw line as much, which she's a lead at because she was not driving to the cup as much.

What I seen her evolve through this year is get back to I'm an efficient basketball player that knows how to read defenses, and I'm going to take the shots I'm given by the defense and be an efficient basketball player.

Q. On the state of the tournament in general, how good is it to see, you know, the March Madness branding, but also television finals going to be on ABC, and you have had the staggered start times for three years. Television coverage is a little more in line with the men's tournament. It seems like things are continuing to evolve?

CORI CLOSE: So grateful. And there's been a lot of hard work by a lot of different parties to make those changes and a lot of expenses put out to make significant changes towards gender equity in the two championships. Really, really grateful.

The March Madness logo and branding of that I think makes a tremendous difference. I think the TV rates are continuing to go up in some of those magnified windows and using ABC, you know, just the prizes and the opportunities, I mean, all of the things and the investments that have been made from the NCAA over the last few years are really, really important, and greatly recognized and appreciated.

That being said, I'm also really excited for a few that still need to be attacked. And I think that, you know, really being able to separate and go to market as the new ESPN contract comes up to bid, I think that's an important next step as well as meaningful unit distribution as associated with the women's tournament.

I think those are two aspects I think are the great next steps. So really, really thankful for the steps that have been made and they have already made tremendous difference in our game. Really excited to take a few more and watch this thing really soar.

Q. Coach, I know you guys have had a very long runway between Selection Sunday and the game. I know it's been like one of your goals to try to manage your emotions throughout. Do you like little pings of excitement the closer you guys get?

CORI CLOSE: I can't speak for them. It sure is for me. I think, you know, it is a challenge, but it's also a blessing because, you know, I think we get to heal up. I think we get to, you know, tweak some things especially with a young team I'm really excited for some of the ways we have been able to grow since the Pac-12 tournament. I think we have we are a better team now.

But I do see it. I see -- you know, I had three of the players in my office yesterday just watching games and talking about it, and what do you think about this. And you know, it's just sort of those sort of those moments where you want to go shh, don't mess it up. You want to enjoy seeing it through their eyes.

And they're starting to really anticipate what's about to happen. And I think, you know, this is -- you just don't get to do this your whole life. These are special ones. And I'm trying to manage the balance of like, hey, let's have great joy and rely on our preparation, but also just pause and enjoy some of those special moments.

Q. Cori, is there more pressure being a host because for a long time, it was if you were -- if you were to host site, you had maybe 95, 98 percent chance of getting to the Sweet 16. And I think we have seen like the past couple years, it's gone down to maybe 75 to 70 percent just with that parity and everything?

CORI CLOSE: I just think the parity in our game is just good for our game. Obviously being a host school, I prefer the 95 percent. But when you look at it from a global perspective, that's what I think the men's tournament has led us down that path of that parity being great for everybody on the big scale.

It allows you to draw more media rights coverage, just allows how it fosters corporate sponsors and eyes on your game and the excitement from abroad as well as a deep group of people that are paying attention to the games.

When you look at it what is our game need, this is right in line. This is great. The next step I really challenge people with with the two regional sites, we have to show up and show out at those two regional sites in Greenville and Seattle. We have to pack those places. That's sort of a next right step in terms of more neutral site games for more teams at the regional levels.

So you know, I think that it's important that as much as, you know, I think it's -- it really helps you know the urgency that needs to go into every single game in preparation because there's no guarantees, and that's both in the first and second rounds. That's at the regional levels.

You know, parity is good. And new eyes, but also new names that people are seeing in our game are really important. And so I think that we just we want to continue to grow it from the grassroots level all the way up. And it starts with exposure, but then it also starts with great competitive games and even a few upsets along the way.

Q. What have you seen from Sacramento State? It's one of those in-state schools you have not played in awhile?

CORI CLOSE: No. But I will tell you, over a lot of -- a big sample size, they're one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. You know, their five player and their point guard are one of the best duos offensively in the country. And that's not -- that's not a fluke. That's over a steady long period of time. And so they have our attention.

And I have known Mark literally since he was about in college and high school. I have known his wife forever. You know, we have a great respect for them. They're not sneaking up on us. We really respect the way they play. They're playing with great joy and confidence right now. It's really obvious.

I watched their last six games and I started with six games ago. And just to watch their confidence grow throughout that time, I was like, wow, they're playing really good basketball. And it's going to be really different styles. They're also one of the slowest paced teams in the entire country.

We are going to want to speed the game up. They're going to want to slow the game down. If we are able to create sort of enough chaos and speed that we are able to get out in transition a little more or are they going to be able to really control the pace of play and the amount of possessions by their pick and ^ roll ^ role game with those two really efficient players and they really shoot the three well. They shoot the three better than we do.

It's going to be really important that we try to chase them off the three point line and that we don't get into a game where we are trading threes and twos.

Q. Does that make this an interesting regional then because you got Sacramento State who kind of plays that patient methodical style, but then in the other match up, you have the second highest scoring team in the nation and then Portland that's also got a unique style in its own?

CORI CLOSE: It really is. You have four really different teams. So what I love is that the intrigue of all of that. There's a lot of ways you can win basketball games. There's a lot of styles you can use.

So it's really about how do you create what you have with your individual pieces and the talent pieces that you have and how well and how disciplined can you create a picture that's bigger than those individual pieces. And each of us four teams at this site are doing that really differently, but still doing it a really high level.

I think it's going to be -- from a fan's perspective, what a cool opportunity to see these different styles, different places. I mean, literally players from all over the world on these four teams. I think it's going to be a great opportunity to see good basketball.

Q. Emily Bessoir, has she kind of been the -- kind of just seeing her development this year, has she kind of been your most improved player and seeing how she recovered from the knee injury, both her and Gina just coming back?

CORI CLOSE: I think she has been. And I think she's really a key to our team. You know, people -- she's our tallest player, so people don't expect it this way, but I really think we run a lot of things through her.

She creates spacing on the floor that we really need. She's now being much more aggressive in the post. If you are going to switch and match up with her on the guard to take away the three point shot, she's much more confident to go inside. I'm most impressed how her defense has improved. We really challenged her about a quarter of the way through Pac-12. That's the limiting factor. We needed that to grow. She's been really able to switch out on more screens or post defense has improved. Her rebounding numbers have gone up.

She's really been a catalyst to our improvement, and she's got such a good IQ. She's been really, really fun to watch her grow both in her mentality as well as in her productivity.

Another side note with her is that she and Nyara Sabally who is the assistant coach on the Sac State side, they grew up together. They are really, really close friends. So fun to see that German connection coming through. Then we have the young one in Lina Sontag as well. So connections all over the place.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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