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March 24, 2007
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up with a statement from Coach Howland.
COACH HOWLAND: Just a great win for our team and program. To get back to a Final Four two years in a row is obviously very exciting.
We beat the best team we played all year today. For sure, Kansas is the best team, in my opinion, we faced all year. Just super impressed with them, not only today live but also watching all the film. They're very well-coached, do a tremendous job. So it's really, really especially gratifying to have beaten such an outstanding team for the right to get back to the Final Four in Atlanta.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with questions just for the student-athletes.
Q. Arron, talk about halftime, what went on there, how the second half you came out, seemed to really bring it up a notch, what you felt you had to do?
ARRON AFFLALO: You know, it really wasn't me individually; it was the whole mindset of our entire team. I was just fortunate enough to make some jump shots tonight. When we went into the locker room, it was about playing for 40 minutes, playing together. I think we did that tonight as a team. We kept that aggressive nature and it proved to be effective for us.
Q. Arron, they forced you guys into a lot of turnovers, more than you've had all year. It seemed like you played your game offensively in the second half. Was there a conscious effort to try not to rush the offense so much? Did you feel like the team's experience paid off at the end?
ARRON AFFLALO: Obviously, coming into this game we had a lot of energy, a lot of anticipation. I was probably the one who was at fault for being a little too excited. Coach actually had to get on me a lot in that first half.
But, yeah, you're absolutely right. In the second half, we did a great job of just being a little more patient, playing with a little more poise, you know, doing what we do, doing all the things we prepared.
Q. Arron, you and Darren had a couple big shots at the shot clock buzzer. Talk about the momentum that gave you.
ARRON AFFLALO: That was a huge lift, especially Darren's. Going up eight that late in the game on the shot clock, a three-pointer with two guys in his face, was a beautiful thing to watch. That's one of the fortunate things about this team, is we have three, four guys, including Josh, who can make shots with the clock running down.
Sometimes the execution doesn't work. You have to have those type of players.
Q. Arron, we've been talking about so much about your shooting the last few games. Today I think you had a streak of eight for eight. Do you sense more confidence when you're in that perhaps zone? Did you gain more confidence as the game went on with your shots?
ARRON AFFLALO: To tell you the truth, I don't really think about that during the game. I'm just playing to win. Obviously when you're making shots, you're gaining confidence. My teammates place a lot of trust in myself.
But, you know, it's all about the win. If I'm fortunate enough to make shots -- just keep shooting, keep shooting, keep playing, there has to be a scorer's mentality.
Q. Josh, can you talk about how meaningful this is to you after being injured last year, and getting a chance, now that you're healthy, to go to the Final Four.
JOSH SHIPP: I mean, it's definitely real meaningful. It was a tough year last year sitting and watching the guys make their run. I'm just truly excited and happy just to be playing, and be back in the Final Four.
Q. Arron, could you just talk about the difference between this team and last year's team. In a sense, you have guys that have been here but you also have new people in different roles.
ARRON AFFLALO: You know, last year's team was a great team. We definitely clicked at the right time last year. We made a great run. We lost three valuable players. But, again, we had a core of those guys come back this season. Josh was there every step of the way emotionally. I think that's sometimes even more important than physically being out there. He was always involved, and at practice. His presence on the floor, the emergence of Darren, the maturity of Luc and Lorenzo and our bench guys, all that comes into play. We're a different team. We're worried about what we're doing at this point.
Q. Arron, right at the beginning of the game, Brandon got to you with his length, bothered a couple of your shots, blocked one or two. Did you make any adjustments to get open looks later on?
ARRON AFFLALO: You know, there weren't many instances where I did actually use the shot fake, which Coach Howland yells at me every day to do, 'cause guys are constantly jumping at my jump shot. You know, I thought I was open. But he's very athletic, very long. He got a piece of it. Just got to do a better job of reading it next time 'cause, you know, there's a possibility you can face those type of defenders once again.
Q. Josh, could you talk a little bit about Arron's leadership on the court in a big game like today, what it means to the team when his shots are falling the way they were.
JOSH SHIPP: I mean, it's definitely huge for us. He's our leader. We go to him in the big-game situations. He was feeling it. So, I mean, we kept going to him. Nobody wanted to force any shots. We tried to look for Arron. We milked the well. Once he's hot, we just keep going to him.
ARRON AFFLALO: Conversely, it goes the same way. Josh hit threes yesterday. Darren was on fire in the Indiana game. We're trying to define what a unit is, move forward that way.
Q. Arron, you talked about Josh's presence, that he wasn't playing last year, the fact he was on the floor this year, now gets a chance to play in the Final Four, how happy are you for him?
ARRON AFFLALO: This is a great thing for him. You know, to sit and watch has to be tough, especially due to the circumstances. But he did a great job in the off-season of staying in the gym, working hard, gaining confidence. You know, he was the one guy I was really battling with in the beginning of the season. It's paying off. It's paying off. He's just as important to this team as everybody else.
Q. Could you address the crowd. Kansas was the No. 1 seed, but it was almost like they were having a road game. Seemed to be three-quarters UCLA fans.
JOSH SHIPP: That was definitely huge for us. It was a great advantage. It was basically like a home game. I mean, we had that huge fan base. They were really loud in there. They were like the sixth man out there today.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, fellas. Questions for Coach Howland.
Q. You called a timeout early in the first half. Did you think the pace was too fast early on?
COACH HOWLAND: We were getting up and down. I think we were down six at one point, when I called that long -- burned the only long TV timeout I had. I thought that helped us, we came back out and we went on a little run there.
Again, Kansas is a great team. I mean, this is a great team we beat today. They have outstanding guards. They're a very good shooting team. They shoot 43% from three over the last 22 games. What was interesting, I thought the game plan was to drive us. They only took one three in the first half. They really hurt us in transition a number of times. There were a lot of steals today. There's a lot of good players on the floor today. You're talking about 32 steals. I mean, is that what that is? I can't remember a game ever where I've been in a game where there's been 32 steals.
We were fortunate to be able to win with 25 turnovers. Truly, truly amazing. Fortunately they had 21. If you throw out our turnovers, we shot over 50%, which I think was the only team all year to shoot over 50%. But it's kind of asterisk next to it with 25 turnovers.
But it's just a great team in Kansas, just really proud of the effort, how hard our guys competed. Whenever they get down in a game, they never quit. They never stop believing in their preparation, their mental toughness. Our team has just been spectacular. We're playing our best basketball of the season right now. We started out with a bang over in Maui. It's been great to really play our best.
Q. Unlike the game the other night, your team pretty much controlled the game, tempo. Last four minutes and 30 seconds of the first half against Kansas, did you think your team was understanding you could make a move on them?
COACH HOWLAND: I'm looking forward to watching the game. Basketball is a game of runs. Our defense ultimately held them to 41%. We forced 21 turnovers. Now, we came out in the beginning of the game trying to double the ball screens on the perimeter. They were too athletic. They were just too good. Got us spread out, hurt us. We took the actual doubles of the ball screens, which is all we've been working on, that's how athletic they are, we could not do it. We had to play a little safer.
But I thought the shot at the end of the half was great. Arron Afflalo made a great read where he penetrated, hit Josh. That gave us great momentum going into the half. Then it was like two boxers there the start of the second half. Both teams were slugging it out the first three or four minutes. Finally we got on a good run again. It was just good defense.
I want to say before I answer any more questions, I want to thank and commend the City of San Jose and also the HP Pavilion for a first-class event. This was really, really well-done. The city has been terrific. We stayed at the downtown Marriott. They were absolutely wonderful to us. I think all of our fans, in talking to my family and friends and fans that have been here, have thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality that's been accorded to us while we've been in town. We really appreciate it. Also would like to thank and commend the committee. The selection committee has done an unbelievable job when you look at the seeding of this tournament. I mean, it's been a 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-3, I think, in the final eight teams. That's absolutely stunning that they could be that good where we could all end up.
We knew that Kansas was going to be a difficult team. That's why it's very special to not only be advancing but to beat a team which, again, is the best team we played all year.
Q. Bill said he thought the key more than anything was your guys' ability to make shots late in the clock.
COACH HOWLAND: We made two incredibly tough shots, including the -- there were actually three. Arron made an unbelievably tough three, then he made a flyer driving down the lane high off the glass that kissed way high and got in. Then Darren's shot was, you know, unbelievable. It was from deep. Those are back-breakers. You're playing great defense, playing great defense, then a guy hits an unbelievable shot from 25 feet, that is tough.
You know, bounces went our way. Commend our players. We have very, very good players.
Q. Could you elaborate a bit on the toughness of Darren and Arron in particular to get those shots off and to make 'em.
COACH HOWLAND: Darren was actually cramping up in the second half. He was cramping both in his upper legs and his calves. I was talking to our trainer. We just tried to keep him hydrated. I thought Russell Westbrook came in and made two big plays for us, including the second time he drove it. The first play was a steal in the first half to go up 21-20. He made a great drive going middle where he just finished over the bigs, put us up 9. That was a big play.
Alfred Aboya came in and battled for us. I'm just really pleased with the overall effort of the team. They're well deserving of a day off tomorrow before we start back and start getting ready for whoever we're going to play, I guess Florida or Oregon.
Q. As hard as you work in this profession, as much focus as there is on March, could you imagine getting to the Elite 8 four times and not being able to break it through the way Bill has here?
COACH HOWLAND: Absolutely. I mean, Gene Keady Gene Keady never got to a Final Four. He's one of the best coaches in the modern era of basketball, history of basketball. Sometimes you have to have some luck and breaks go your way, like a Darren Collison three at the end of the shot clock.
There's no doubt in myself that Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks are going to win a national championship here at some point. They do an incredible job. They're as well-coached as anybody we've played. Texas A&M is one of the best-coached teams, one of Bill's former assistants in Gillespie.
It's an incredible program. He's one of the best coaches in the country without question. They will get there. They will win a national championship, I'm sure.
Q. What is the significance of being the first coach since Coach Wooden to get to consecutive Final Fours?
COACH HOWLAND: Just a great blessing. It really is, a blessing, that I never expected.
Q. You seemed testy in here yesterday. Was it really too noisy? Were you having a bad day?
COACH HOWLAND: I really apologize for that yesterday. I've heard about it plenty. But I'll tell you, we had background noise coming from here doing the radio interviews, and people in the back that were very loud. It was really hard to hear up here. I just wanted to make sure that our players were able to, number one, hear the questions, and number two, that you were able to hear, just have a -- just easy, like right now. Right now is great (smiling).
Q. Can you talk a little bit about playing in this arena here. Does it help you when you have the vast majority of the crowd for UCLA? It's not exactly like a home game.
COACH HOWLAND: No, it's not like a home game. Remember, we lost in the Staples Center against Cal. We had a great crowd there. That was about, you know, 15 miles from campus. So there's no question, I think more than anything the travel, cutting down on the travel, not having to go as far. That's how it's always going to be in terms of regions. We work very, very hard all year. The very first meeting we had I talked to our team about Sacramento, San Jose to Atlanta, that's how we have to do it. That's our best opportunity to do it. We have worked hard to put ourselves in a position to be seeded high enough to where we knew we would stay in California. Had we not lost that Cal game, I'm pretty confident we would have been a 1 seed.
That being said, we played a great team. Look at their neutral games. I think they were 9-1 this year in neutral sites. There's no question the crowd was in our favor. That's a big plus any time you have that when you're playing a great team like Kansas, which there aren't many of.
Q. You talked about No. 1 versus No. 2 seed here, yet there was not a senior on the court today. Will there ever be a NCAA championship winner with three seniors on their squad starting?
COACH HOWLAND: Yeah, no question. You know, it's going to happen. What you're seeing, the parity in college basketball is just so close now, it's so great for the fans, makes it so difficult. Anybody can beat anybody on a given day. I mean, I really believe that we can beat anybody on a given day. I still believe we can be beaten by anybody on a given day. Our players understand that.
There's no question you're going to see senior-dominated teams winning national championships at some point in the near future. We had three seniors on our team last year that came up short in the national championship, and two of them were starting, in Cedric Bozeman and Ryan Hollins, who are both great players, huge force behind how we got there a year ago. Had we won last year, you would have had two starters along with Mike Fey.
Q. Arron hit six of your first eight shots after the half. Talk about the impact that had on his teammates when you see your guy step up at a moment like that?
COACH HOWLAND: Arron's a big-time player, big-time players make important shots in big games, on the stage. I'm really proud of Arron. He's just so tough. You can see he's all about his team, he's all about winning. He was the first recruit that I recruited as the new head coach at UCLA. It's really been special to have him. He's a consensus first team All-American. He's a big-time player. What else can you say?
Q. Having lost those three seniors and not having Josh on the team last year, is this team still better equipped going back to the Final Four a second time?
COACH HOWLAND: You know, I would say the way we're playing right now -- I don't know if you remember, we had a little luck on our side against Gonzaga in the third game of the tournament last year, down 17 with 10 to go, down 10 points with I think three minutes to go. We earned that.
But I think these wins, the last two -- last four, have all been solid wins. The Indiana game obviously got a little tight. We blew the lead. It was 49-all. We were up 16, up 13. Give credit to Indiana for making it tough on us.
But you look in comparison, we have a lot of players that have been there now. I think they can draw upon that experience of having been not only to this point a year ago but went to the Final Four and won a game.
We're going to play a great team no matter who it is, either Florida or Oregon. Oregon is very, very hot, not unlike Kansas. I think Kansas has won 14 in a row until today. We've got our hands full no matter who we get. We're going to get a chance to enjoy this one, at least for another five hours.
Q. On the academic side of things, how do your players -- maybe a couple big games next week, how do they prepare in between these games on the road?
COACH HOWLAND: That's a great question. We start spring break here actually Monday. We just had players taking finals this past week going into these two games. In fact, a couple of our players had to take finals here when we got here Tuesday night. They were proctored. It's very difficult when you're in the middle of finals and you're preparing for the regionals. But that's something that our guys have done the last couple years.
So fortunately this week coming up, we're actually out of school, which I think is tremendous, and allows them just to focus on basketball for a week. Our guys are very, very bright, intelligent young men. Talking about our seniors, we actually had Janou Rubin, also a senior, walk on for us last year, along with Michael Fey, Ryan Hollins and Cedric Bozeman, all of those kids graduated a year ago. Everybody in our program was on course to graduate either before their schedule or on time. I'm really proud of that.
It is truly the definition of student-athlete when you talk about UCLA, the UCLA athletic program as a whole, not just the basketball program.
Q. If you had to pick one or the other, which was more impressive or significant today, Arron's offensive performance or your team's defensive performance?
COACH HOWLAND: I would say they were both equally significant. I mean, Brandon Rush is an unbelievable player. We held him to 18. But our overall team defense of 41%, the three previous games we held our opponents to under 40. Today they snuck up on us and got above 40. The second half, though, we tightened things, held them to 36%. That includes three or four threes late in the game that was making it interesting.
Again, I thought we did a good job on the boards, to beat them on the glass, an incredible accomplishment. This is a team I think had beaten -- they outboarded their opponents on the year by six or seven.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, coach.
COACH HOWLAND: Thank you.
End of FastScripts