March 18, 2023
Los Angeles, California, USA
UCLA, 67 - SACRAMENTO STATE, 45.
THE MODERATOR: Okay. Welcome to the NCAA March Madness first round press conference with UCLA. We are joined by Charisma Osborne, Kiki Rice and Head Coach Cori Close. We will start with questions for the athletes.
Q. For Charisma. We talked this week about playing in a normal tournament for the first time. What was it like playing in this normal tournament game?
CHARISMA OSBORNE: It was fun. I was having so much fun, even before the game, having so much fun in the locker room. When we came out. The energy. Seeing so many people out there. We were super excited to play. It has been a while. It has been exciting playing. It is everyone's first time on the team, really, going through the tournament for the first time. So, it was fun, I had fun.
Q. It seems like you had extra energy to start. Was that the build up of waiting a week? You were pretty animated.
KIKI RICE: Yes, pregame warmups. We were in the locker room hanging out. We were playing music, we had the whole day to wait. A lot of built up excitement. We were excited to get out there and handle the first game.
Q. Charisma, you mentioned no one on this team really having a lot of NCAA experience. Did you address potential nerves at all this week, or was it business as usual?
CHARISMA OSBORNE: I think we did. We talked about pressure a lot this week. How we can attack it and apply it. We did tonight. That was a big key to our scouting report. Sorry, applying pressure on defense. So, I wasn't nervous. Were you nervous?
KIKI RICE: Not really, no.
CHARISMA OSBORNE: I think we were all just excited to finally play again.
Q. For Charisma and Kiki, how many of the games did you watch during the afternoon, and seeing all the comebacks and rallies and everything? How much of a point was it to get out to that big lead, and also to keep the foot on the pedal?
KIKI RICE: I watched almost all of them. Both the Women and the Men's. A bunch of them. We knew every team in March Madness is a great team. We couldn't take anyone lightly and come out strong. We knew we had to come out strong. It was a good way throughout the day, since we didn't play until 8:30. Get my mind off the game, and enjoy other fun basketball games.
CHARISMA OSBORNE: I think our team did a good job to watch to be able to watch those games, and when it was time to lock in to our game, what we needed to do to win.
Q. Charisma, I think you were out there with all freshmen on the court at one point. How does that deep, long bench really give you some versatility, especially with all of those freshmen?
CHARISMA OSBORNE: I didn't notice. That is a testament to them. It is super cool, having all freshmen out there. I don't think any other team in the country is able to do that. I think everybody played pretty well. It was super fun out there with them. I am excited they are out here experiencing March Madness.
Q. You guys had a huge defensive performance today and allowed zero points off fastbreaks. What can you say in terms of your defensive performance tonight?
CHARISMA OSBORNE: I think, two of the keys for the game. One was applying pressure, the other one was ball screen defense. So, I think we always talk about the defense being our anchor. I think everyone took that to heart. We knew, if we were going to win and win by a lot, we need to play defense. That will be a key to every game moving forward. Keeping that in the back of our minds that defense is going to win us games.
Q. You talked a lot about how happy you are to have someone like KiKi, alongside you, so you don't have to bring the ball up so much. Have the ball in your hands. You had the ball in your hands a lot tonight. Five assists. How has that part of your game developed over the years? You being a primary play maker. As you advance as one of the leaders on the team, do you kind of see yourself having the ball in your hands a little bit more?
CHARISMA OSBORNE: Yes. The last two years I have gotten a lot of experience. I am grateful for that now. I like having the ball in my hands. I like making plays for my teammates, and I don't always have to score. If I can get other people shots, and do things to impact the game, I will try to do that for my team.
Q. For Kiki. I remember there were games early in the season where you may have only taken a couple of shots throughout the game. 10 points in the first quarter tonight. Looked like you were confident from the start. How do you feel you have grown confidence wise, not waiting out the game, and being confident from the get-go, attacking and being yourself.
KIKI RICE: I think throughout the season, my confidence has gone up, as I have gotten more experience playing games. Knowing what my team needs from me. Reading the game, and basing it off that. I had open lanes in the beginning that I took, I thought I had a mismatch or could score on my defender. I think I definitely have a lot of confidence going into the tournament. Thank you for your teammates and coaches and everyone who has helped me get to this point and grow my confidence.
Q. I have heard that you guys are trying to get Emily BEZ mar to be more aggressive. How does her calmness work in your guy's favor in games like this?
KIKI RICE: I mean, Em, she is such a sweet girl. Sometimes, maybe at the beginning, she is not super aggressive or always not hunting for her shot, cause she is trying to get everyone else involved. We know how lethal she can be out there. When she is taking the shot, our team is so much better. Giving her that green light. She knows, whatever shot she takes we all think it is going in. If it doesn't, we have her back.
CHARISMA OSBORNE: She is wearing the bun now.
She's been aggressive. She has just been playing well with the bun. Keep the bun, she has been wearing it since the PAC-12 tournament. Messy bun.
Q. You guys have seemed really relaxed the last couple of days, even the first five minutes of practice at center court, dance party broke out. Is that something you usually do before practice? Or something, because you guys were incredibly loose and relaxed, did it yesterday?
KIKI RICE: I think we always have a lot of fun. We are always pretty relaxed. It feels like we haven't played in a while. We have had a lot of practices, we were excited to finally have a game. There is a lot of excitement going on for the game. We have had really good practices. It has been a lot of fun these past few of days.
CHARISMA OSBORNE: Head coach Cori initiated that. I think too, it is so important we want it to be fun, and not so serious all the time. I love that we can have fun and still be focused. Have fun, dance and make jokes and things like that.
Q. Charisma, you play one more game in Pauley. What has it meant to you to play in this building for the last four years?
CHARISMA OSBORNE: It meant a lot, so many historical things that have happened before.
It is super cool to play in here. Honestly, I am probably bias, I think it is the prettiest gym in the country. It is so fun to play with my teammates, and have the coaches here, have my family here, all the fans. I have been enjoying playing here so much. It means a lot. I am super excited for the future. I am super excited to continue in the tournament.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much.
All right, we are going to start with an opening statement from Coach Close, then we will get to questions in the room.
CORI CLOSE: I think that the thing I am most proud of is our preparation. I think that this team has been a great learning team. You asked about the dance party. You know, it is my responsibility as a coach to learn about this particular group with every experience that we have together. You know, candidly, I wish I had handled the day before the championship game a little differently. I learned about them, that you know, I don't need to motivate them to work hard. This group is a really hard working group. I know they want it. I think the 48 hours between when we played -- won in the semi final and playing in the finals, we got tense. We didn't play our best basketball in the final. As the day went on, we were putting more and more pressure on ourselves. I think that was a conscious choice on the staff's part. If we kept preparing with great focus, then we needed to bring great joy. I think that balance is really, really important.
That was the key for me tonight. I thought we played with good preparation and focus, and also tried to enjoy the moments. I think Charisma, she is probably one of the ones who puts the most pressure on herself. I thought she was the most consistent. She wasn't scoring at first, they were sending a lot of people to her. She had 5 assists, zero turnovers, 12 rebounds, 11 points. To me, her plus/minus was the top on the team, plus 22. That speaks volumes. She made winning plays. We knew that Sacramento State was a really lethal, offensive team. Holding them to four threes was really, really important. Out-rebounding them by 15 was really important. It will be a completely different game on Monday. We are excited to be 1-0 and have another opportunity to play.
Q. Coach, usually, I ask you what things you liked out of the game. It seems like you have taken a more of a mental jump than a statistical jump tonight. Going back about a month and a half to three losses in a row. How is today's UCLA Bruins today different than that team?
CORI CLOSE: I think our identity is more solidified. We were making enough winning plays in those three games to win. We weren't solid enough in our identity to make the ones right for us down the stretch. Through that experience, when the pressure comes, what is good for us? What can we be? What can we slip up in and how do we protect ourselves against that? When are we at our best? In those moments, what is our go-to things? And what is our identity in the pressurized moments? We worked really, really hard at that. It hasn't been easy, but we are more confident in who we are, and when we are at our best.
Q. Coach Shannon and Coach Tasha were scouting seriously there. I know you haven't had a chance to watch it yet.
CORI CLOSE: I was watching back there, every play.
Q. Okay. How are you going to prepare to face a team like Oklahoma?
CORI CLOSE: Completely different. Sac State was one of the slowest paced teams, very methodical on the offensive end. We were trying to speed them up. Right, in everything that we did. It is the exact opposite. Oklahoma is one of the most fast-paced teams. Really good offensive team. About 83 points a game, they average. Really, really good. Absolute different game plan. Credit to the job that Jenny has done with that group. I think she is a superb coach. I have been preparing along the way. I have watched several films. She does an excellent job. They sort of play small ball. They are long, but they don't have a 6'5" post play they're is dominant to play through.
All of them are versatile. Obviously, they all shoot the three. It is going to be so important that we limit their transmission points, limit threes, and that we control possessions on the defensive end.
Q. Coach, you know, you have legitimately, a 10 deep roster. Sacramento State only played seven, eight players. For most teams, have shorter rotations. What goes into managing, having such a deep rotation like that? As you continue to advance, what are some of the advantages to having such a deep rotation?
CORI CLOSE: When you look at the NCAA tournament, how many times have you seen in the men's and women's tournament, somebody off the bench make a huge spark for a team? I think everybody has to stay ready. Everybody also has to stay selfless. Selflessness is about, what does the team need from me today? Whatever that is, I am willing to do. Maybe it won't be that way. Our game plan was good for that today. We wanted to speed them up. We wanted to press, we wanted to keep fresh bodies in there to keep it going. Maybe there will be someone hot. Maybe we won't be able to do that. Number one, we have options, number two, we are selfless, and number three, I think we have so many different weapons that play against different styles. It may not be the same every game through the tournament. Right now, I want to make sure that we are mentally prepared and completely selfless and then see what game brings.
Q. Cori, the last couple of weeks, has the game slowed down for KiKi, where everything is finally coming into focus? For her coming in as a second ranked player, did we over expect kind of what she was going do this year?
CORI CLOSE: On top of it, she started out like gang busters. Right? Then, now you are at the center of everybody's scouting report. Welcome to college basketball. Now you have to sort of regroup. I think every one of our freshmen, and every freshman across the country hits a wall. This is a new experience. They get exposed on bad habits they didn't know they had. You have to battle to get your confidence back. You never had to wrestle with that, because you have always been the best player. I think every single one of our freshmen have had that. For KiKi, that happened in the middle of Pac-12 play. What is so great about KiKi, she has such a relentless work ethic. I think, eventually, all of that preparation, all the hard work, and I have to kick her out of the gym all the time. I want to give a ton of credit to coach Tasha, on our staff. She does a ton of work one-on-one with KiKi. I think they have been working a ton on what are hunting shots. She was not confident about, what is mine? What can I go get? Paralysis by analysis. Over analyzing everything. I think she -- the game had to slow down before it could speed up. I think she had to go through that learning process. She is relentless, and she is really smart. She is really intellectual. She studies the game. I watched film a few days ago with Gina and KiKi. We didn't finish. They said, coach will you meet us again, we will be here at 6:00 tomorrow night? Can we finish the film clips from Pac-12 tournament? That is how she is. I think she is being rewarded by that work.
Q. After almost more than a 20-point victory in the first round, are you worried at all making sure your team stays hungry?
CORI CLOSE: No. How about that for an answer? The next time you are not hungry, you go home. We want to keep playing. So, our focus is completely on whatever it takes to become 1-0 again. This team really wants to do great things. So, we are going to have to play better than we did tonight to beat Oklahoma. We will have to get better. And continue to fight to be us, and to play to our identity. This team is hungry. I am not worried about that at all. Before I let you go. I wanted to thank you guys. We had a nice crowd here tonight. We will need more coverage. The way you guys created buzz around this weekend, is meaningful to us and to our game. Thank you guys for telling the stories. I know it is late. We are the last game here. Thanks for staying the course and helping to grow our game. Appreciate Y'all.
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