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March 7, 2012

Garrett Jackson

Kevin O'Neill

Byron Wesley


UCLA – 55
USC – 40

COACH O'NEILL:  We obviously played a decent game, but it's really hard to win when you shoot 28%, and that's kind of been the story of our year.  We only turned over 11 times and defended pretty well, rebounded the ball pretty well.  But unfortunately we didn't do enough on the offensive end to win it.
I want to make a point that all of our players that were left standing throughout the end of the year did a great job of playing as hard as they could at all times.  That says a lot about them as people and as players, and I appreciate their efforts.
I also appreciate Eric Strangis, our only senior who is a walk on, that started tonight.  I thought he did a great job for us all year long of doing what he could.  We never dreamed that we would start the first game with Eric Strangis, and end the first game with Eric Strangis, but that's kind of the way our year went.
Moving forward, what we have to do as a group is get a bad taste out of our mouth from this year, which we will.  Get some guys healthy.  Get back to work after the Final Four, and make sure that we have a great team next year which we plan on doing.
I appreciate two groups tremendously, our players and our fans for their support of what they did, and our players for the effort they put forth and how hard they fought against some pretty tough odds a lot of times.
They never gave in.  They did what they could, and did what they should, and that is do your job every single day.

Q.  Byron, seemed like in the first half you guys were a lot more aggressive.  What happened in the second half?  Was it fatigue, was it just the defense?
BYRON WESLEY:  Honestly, I don't know the answer.  We came out strong.  We had a lost energy the first half.  We had a lost momentum.  Second half, we had the same game plan.  Wanted to come out strong, but things just didn't pan out.

Q.  Coach, the first half I know was different from the second.  But in your mind as a coach when you look at everything from the rebounding, is there anything different that you thought about now that maybe you might have made adjustments after the game is over?
COACH O'NEILL:  During this game we just played?

Q.  Yes.
COACH O'NEILL:  You know, if you look at the rebound‑‑ if you watch warm‑ups, they're going to outrebound us, okay.  They're bigger than us at every spot, obviously.  Depth‑wise, we don't really have an answer for their size.  From Josh and their whole front line, I think they're one of the best front lines in the whole country.  So that's a tough match‑up for us.  We did a good job of gang rebounding and guard rebounding in the first half.  I really didn't have any adjustments I could have made, I don't think.
I thought our team really came out and executed well.  The way the half ended, the first half, set us up for failure in the second half, to be honest with you, and put us in a position where they had the momentum.  But I think they kind of just wore us down on the boards.  Their size got us.

Q.  What did they say about the flagrant foul that was called on Greg Allen?  What did he do exactly?
COACH O'NEILL:  They said it was an elbow to the head.  So they went to the monitor.  The three of them brain stormed, went over to the monitor, put their heads together, and came up with a flagrant foul.  When three guys like that come up with that flagrant foul, I'd have to agree with it.
Actually, the rule is bad.  They had to call the flagrant foul.  The rule is bad.  The rule says any elbow above the shoulders.  But Greg was just making a play.  They made the right call.  Don't get me wrong, but they don't want to make that‑‑ the officials don't want to make that call either.  The rule is wrong.  The rule is stupid, and they need to do something to adjust it.
But the three of them put their heads together and figured that out at the monitor, and they are a good crew.  All those guys are good guys.

Q.  Are you surprised they didn't go into the low post very much in the first half and sort of kept you guys in the game?
COACH O'NEILL:  Well, we wanted them to shoot jump shots, because when they go down there, Eric Strangis versus Josh Smith is not a very good match‑up for us.  To be honest with you, none of our bigs can really match‑up with them man for man across the front line.  But we ended up trying to pack it in and just hold the lane to almost force jump shots and sit down in their laps.  They made the adjustment at halftime to go down there in the second half, made a concerted effort.
Both the Wear twins are really good players, and you're not going to have an answer for Josh Smith.  At his size, we can't guard him.  They did a good job to start the half and continued on through the whole second half.

Q.  How much were you enjoying Josh not being out there in the first half?
COACH O'NEILL:  I didn't realize he wasn't out there for the longest time, to be honest with you.  I think the guy's a really good player.  I think he has a chance to play at the next level.  Obviously, he's going to have to get better at some things, but he's a force to reckon with down low.  He's got a chance.  We didn't have anybody that could guard him at all.

Q.  There were very few USC fans, USC students in the arena today. Do you think that played a part?  And last Sunday against Washington State, the fans really seemed to help you guys rally.  Do you think that had anything to do with your lack of fight?
COACH O'NEILL:  Well, let's face it, in Staples, it's not a huge crowd anyway of anybody right now.  But I don't know if that would have changed the game.  I really don't.  I think their size just kind of got to us.  Our fans did a great job for us all year in difficult circumstances.  Our fan did help us rally a few times at home and make runs of games.  I don't know if it would have made a difference in this building today.  It's hard to tell.

Q.  To follow‑up, you were talking about Josh Smith and your feeling that he could make it at the other level.  What gives you this feeling, and does it perplex you‑‑ you've seen other players I'm sure that you feel can go to the next level but just aren't achieving it at the college level right now.  Can you talk about that?
COACH O'NEILL:  Well, he's a young player.  I think you have to give young players a chance to develop.  I really do.  He's a sophomore, great hands, great touch, excellent passer, good free‑throw shooter, legitimate size, runs well.  I think he has all the tools and been blessed with God‑given tools.  I hope the kid makes it.
I hope all these guys make it.  I think it would be great if they all played in the NBA.  But I sincerely hope that over the next two years he develops into the kind of player he wants to be.

Q.  Can you guys talk about what it was like to go through a season like you just went through?  I know you would prefer to keep playing, but is there an element of relief that this one's over and you can move ahead?
BYRON WESLEY:  I'll start.  This season was definitely tough.  Starting this season off missing one of our best players.  Him getting hurt in Brazil.  Then we lose our two big men.  It's just been a really tough year.
Despite all the injuries we've had, it still hurts.  Today's game really hurt.  Even though we had this season, I guess we have to start moving on.  I'm going to definitely reflect on my weaknesses, my strengths, and I'm just going to try to come in next year as a better player.
GARRETT JACKSON:  I wouldn't say it's necessarily a relief, especially for guys like Eric Strangis who is a senior and is trying to make it last as long as he can.  I mean, all the injuries, it's tough.  It's been a really rough season, but we want to play as long as we can.

Q.  Garrett and Byron, how will you use this as motivation to come back even stronger?
GARRETT JACKSON:  Well, I mean, we do have a bad taste in our mouth.  We don't like losing.  I think the things would have been a lot different if we were full force and didn't have as many injuries, so I'm definitely looking forward to that, to playing with everybody full health.
BYRON WESLEY:  I think it's just this whole year was motivation.  We lost to our rival UCLA three times which that just can't happen.  From losing almost every game in the Pac‑12 to only winning five games outside of league, that's just motivation itself.

Q.  How do you deal with this season now going into the off‑season and put a positive spin on it for yourself to the point where you say, okay, we have really something to look forward to here?
COACH O'NEILL:  Well, we do have a lot to look forward to.  Again, I think I always tell players that every season is a journey.  It really is.  Sometimes the journey is great.  Sometimes it's up and down.  Sometimes it's bad.  This was a bad journey for us in a lot of ways.
But a lot of positives are going to come out of this because guys developed as players that wouldn't have had the opportunity to play that kind of minutes.  I think we'll appreciate winning a whole lot more going forward.  We're adding almost a whole new team.  I mean, between the guys we're bringing in and the guys that are hurt sitting out, the guys that are red‑shirting sitting out.
We tried to put this thing together without the junior and senior class that we lost.  Four guys released and then the class ahead of them had some guys leave and go to the pros and all that.  We tried to put it together with some junior college guys and transfers.  We made it through the first two years with six and six players.  If we had injuries at that point, we'd have been in trouble.
But it caught up with us this year.  It wasn't fun for anybody.  But I wish we could start the season tomorrow, to be honest with you.  I think that's the only way to approach it.  Your grieving period should be short when you lose, and you should move forward, but we should remember the lessons of this season and how bad it felt to lose and many times not have an opportunity to even win the game.
So I hope all our guys realize that and do the their job on and off the floor, which they will, and we'll come back and be a good basketball program like we were last year.

Q.  The Pac‑12's gotten beaten up a lot this year nationally.  Do you think this was just an anomaly this year?
COACH O'NEILL:  You know what I think happened?  We lose so many guys to the pros every year.  Just think if Ben had those two second round picks back, how good they'd be.  I think it's a difficult situation.  I've said this before, we all have to play great non‑conference schedules and get non‑conference wins.
It's like anything else.  You are judged on the non‑conference, and ranked wins and top 50 wins and top hundred wins.  We got in the NCAA Tournament last year because we had wins at Tennessee and against Texas and played Kansas well and played a good schedule.  We all have to play great schedules.  We all have to win some of those games.  That's how you're judged, because once you start playing each other, if you haven't set your reputation, you're not going to be able to do that.  That's what we should all be thinking about moving forward.  I think that's what we're going to do.  We're going to play a better schedule this year than we did this past year, and that's the only way to do it.
We lose an inordinate amount of players to the pros for a relatively small league every year, and that hurts us.  But at the same time, it's our job to replace those guys and move forward and have quality programs, which we will.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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