Sweet Sixteen: UCLA Presser

Mar. 27 -- The full transcript from UCLA's Thursday press conference featuring head coach Steve Alford, Norman Powell, and Bryce Alford, courtesy of ASAP Sports...

Q. How is your team different from the December game with Gonzaga?

UCLA COACH Steve Alford: Well, hopefully a lot. Watching that tape a couple times over, I think we're a much, much mature basketball team than what we were there. And again I've said that, it's such a credit to our guys because we were going through -- that was the start of a stretch, Gonzaga at home, Kentucky in Chicago, at Alabama, that they could have just turned the switch off. And then we got the reset button with the conference starting. And then we have to start on the road to Colorado and Utah. They could have just stopped and stopped again. I think that's where them trusting with us and trusting one another, they've stayed at it and kept working. It's a young group. It's a young, inexperienced group. They're going through it for the first time. They started to mature and get a lot better and we've won six out six. And even I think going 14 and 6 from that point on, you know, even the games we lost at Arizona State, at Cal, at Arizona, those were losses for us. We were right there and played well in those. Just the maturity of the team, understanding roles, trust in one another, having only one senior playing in the rotation and having him be a good leader and staying with it even when we were going through some tough times, I think all that kind of has brought us to the point that we are at now.

Q. Steve, from the first meeting, what makes Wiltjer so difficult with his combination of size and also his ability to step out and shoot the three?

COACH ALFORD: You said it. He's got a combination of all those things. They're just a very dangerous team. They're so efficient offensively. They don't beat themselves. They take care of the basketball. They know the shots they want to get. They've got a lot of experience on the team. Wiltjer, Sabonis, Karnowski obviously get a lot of attention up-front and warranted because they're big, they're talented, very skilled bigs. Wiltjer can go inside out, but the three guards that are all seniors, you know, you got three senior guards, they understand the moment. They understand when runs are against them. They understand when they are in the midst of a run. Those three senior guards I think really solidify what they're able to do as a basketball team. They have got a very good bench. Got a ton of respect for Mark and his staff. They do a tremendous job and have done it consistently over time. We know we've got a very, very tough matchup. This is a very good basketball team. You're about maybe two possessions away in the BYU game and one possession away in the game at Arizona to where you'd be looking at them as being undefeated just like Kentucky. That's how good this team is.

Q. How much of some of the say observations that UCLA shouldn't have been in the tournament fueled you guys, gave you something to prove to this point?

COACH ALFORD: There's been a lot of made of that. I wish there was more made of what our young men have been able to do and grow up and mature and become the team that they are, because that's the real story. If you really look at it, there are four other teams that were last in, not UCLA. We weren't one of the four last into the tournament. If you look at RPIs, strength of schedule, that validates that of the other four teams. That one is hard to believe, but there was a lot made out of that our guys hear that. And so I think the competitor in you obviously that fuels what you want to do and you want to prove people wrong maybe. Our message to them has always been not so much of what somebody is saying, because we've really tried to work with our guys on paying attention to noise in the locker remove, not what is out. That varies. Two weeks ago it was -- you didn't deserve it, you didn't deserve it. Now it's a love-fest. It changes, you know, and so that noise, whether it's positive or negative, can really affect you as an athlete. You've got to really stay into the moment and really keep moving forward. The story I think about this year's team at UCLA is that the number of people we lost. We had three go hardship. We've had five guys, five of the eight guys that were in our rotation last year are in the NBA right now. There's no other program anywhere in the country that has five guys from last year's team playing in the NBA and three that went hardship. Here we are back in the Sweet 16 with this can young, inexperienced group. That's a tremendous credit to our young players of growing, maturing, listening and working to become a better basketball team, and that's what I'm most pleased with. That's what I'm most proud about this team is that how they have responded in a year which most people would say was a transitional year with everything that we lost and yet we're one of 16 teams still playing. That's a heck of an accomplishment.

Q. Steve, it seems like more coaches lately just in the one and done area are more comfortable talking about guys who they know are going the leave. Do you feel like Kevon is still undecided on that run and how hard is it to know if a guy is ready?

COACH ALFORD: We obviously haven't talked about it yet. That will be obviously because of his talent. I'll do whatever Kevon wants and our staff will do what Kevon wants. He's been unbelievable. For somebody who has been on everybody's lottery board on all the predraft stuff, he's been coachable. He knows he's got to keep working to get better. For guys that aren't one, two and done. It's unique. They still got a lot of work to do. That's Kevon. Kevon he watches tape. He's coachable. So, once the zone is over we'll sit down and talk to him, but it will all be Kevon's decision and what he feels like is best for his career and what's best for his immediate family and family beyond. We'll be very, very supportive on whatever he wants, but I know this year in his first year he's been a joy to coach. He's been tremendous.

Q. With five guys scoring in double digits, how much does that help offensively and is that something you go about trying to achieve or is that something that just happens?

COACH ALFORD: I think one, we've had a very, very young bench, and so that bench has just been developing, and part of our I think late game stuff has been our bench has really developed, and those guys have confidence now, Noah, G.G., all have great confidence and playing at a much higher level. We have more trust in them. They have more trust in themselves and teammates. Those five guys in the starting lineup, we've been in double figures, those five have been in double figures most of the zone. What's different now I think has been the consistency. Norman and Bryce have been pretty consistent throughout the entire year. Kevon has been very consistent around the double-double area all year long. I think the reason why we're having a little bit more success at a higher level here in the last month has been Tony Parker and Issac Hamilton. I think those two have really proven themselves in the last month to six weeks that's really helped our team. We've got an inside/outside presence. That opens things up for everybody. Tony has had a lot to do with that. Tom coming off the bench. Issac has been very consistent and not just in numbers offensively, but Issac has been a real plus for what we've been trying to do defensively.

Q. You mentioned losing all the guys that you lost of off last year's team. Does getting back to this, have you proven something as a coach?

COACH ALFORD: Oh, I don't know. I've always said it's a player's game. Coaches probably you win, you get too much credit, you lose, you get way too much of the criticism, too, but that's part of the profession that I'm in. More than me, more than our staff -- and I do appreciate -- I got a big time staff. I'm very, very fortunate because my staff is as good as anybody's. They've worked extremely hard in this season because it wasn't an easy season because of everything that we've lost. This team's involved. It's hasn't been easy, but a lot of fun. Like I said, the credit goes to the players, and I said even in the conference. They just quit and stop trying and stop doing the things that athletes do when tough times hit. They didn't do that. We weren't very good against Kentucky. We didn't play particularly well against Gonzaga. They had a lot to do with that because of how good they were. We were really awful then against Kentucky, and so that's what everybody's image is and the image now is vastly different of just the demeanor of this team and how we go about things, and that's a credit to the players. They've -- they've stuck with it, learned to trust, and individually they're better, three months later and I think collectively as a team we're better. So, I give my staff a lot of credit for staying with it, not jumping ship and all of a sudden now we're going to be a one, three, one season team. We've going to revamp offense. We've stayed with what we believe in and our guys have gotten better at it.

Q. Steve, you're in the middle of a home and home series with Gonzaga. Was that set-up after you got there? And not every school will do that. How did you feel about going up there?

COACH ALFORD: I'm one of the crazy ones. Went into home-and-home with Mark. Mark and I have known each for a long time. I've got a lot of respect for him and his program. We've got a home and home with Kentucky now starting, and it's something that we wanted to do was upgrade our non-conference schedule, and, again, not much has been talked about that as well. Not only do we have a very young, inexperienced team, but this year's non-conference schedule was arguably the toughest non-conference schedule they had in a decade. Our young guys are trying to compete and learn playing the likes of Gonzaga, the likes of Kentucky, of Carolina, of Oklahoma. These are all teams we played in the non-conference. They've had to learn by playing the best, and that's why I'm so impressed with this group of young men, because it's not like we've gotten better because we played a weak non-conference schedule. It was very, very difficult. Gonzaga is obviously a big part of that. On the West Coast, you look at the teams on the West Coast, Gonzaga has had a very, very consistent run over the last decade. They do things at a very high level. Obviously with the tradition and history at UCLA and what we're all about, I think that's a great West Coast home-and-home and we weren't able to get this one at home this year. Now we've got to play them in the national tournament and the next one after that we have to go up to Spokane. It doesn't get any easier for us. It's a very good home and home for us.

Q. Steve, how do you make it work as being just a dad to your sons but also head coach of your sons and especially bryce thrown into the starting role, how that has worked out?

COACH ALFORD: Keep a balance. Really have a balance to it. I've had a lot of it around me. I was a coach's kid. My father was a high school coach for a great number of years, and back then in Indiana when it was just one class, that's when it was real high school basketball. I'm glad I grew up that era. You can only play Friday and Saturday. Couldn't in a play on Sunday, couldn't practice on Sunday. I can always remember, you know, it was kind of coach for six days and then dad would take my brother and I up to the gym on Sundays and he was dad and, you know, so I've tried doing a little bit of that. It's a little different at the college level because we play all over the map and every day of the weeks. Sundays once we get into league play can present that. Kory and Bryce will come out, we'll have church, lunch, and then I'm able to be dad a little bit more than coach. We don't get a lot of off time, but I always make sure that I give it -- you're always critiquing tape as a coach. Lot of times I'll critique a game film as a coach and then I'll go back and make sure I do critique it as a dad and -- because you want the make sure you live in that moment and have fun. It's an incredible blessing and to have Kory and Bryce on the team, Kory has been a part of four years now. He's been a part of four NCAA tournaments, he's been a part of two Sweet 16s, he's been a part of three league tournament titles, two league championships. And now Bryce in two years has been part of the league tournament championship and two Sweet 16s. Just like all other college kids I've taught and coached, part of the journey is making sure you enjoy it and have fun. So the last thing I want to do is have my children on the team and them not enjoy it and not me enjoy it. So, been very blessed. It's been an incredible experience and ride to date and hopefully it's just going to keep getting better. I think finding that balance of when you're dad -- most of the time you're coach but make sure you're still dad as well. THE MODERATOR: Anything else for Coach? Last question right here.

Q. Coach, you mentioned the noise and not listening to the outside noise but the noise in the locker room. What is the noise in the locker room from such a tough season, and being doubted and being celebrated for accomplishment.

COACH ALFORD: Like what you just said being a tough season. We never viewed it as a tough season. It might not be the success everybody was wanting, whether it be Westwood, Los Angeles, nationally. You know, at UCLA it's about national championships. It's about that. We get that. We understand that. But the fact is still the fact. There's only one program in the country that lost three to hardship. There's only one program in the country that put five guys in the NBA. That's UCLA. So, when you lose all of that, you can't say, well, this team does it, too. No. No. There's only one, only one team that did that. So when you lose all that, it takes some time. And for these young men to keep battling, we got one senior in the rotation, we got one junior in the rotation. Everybody else is in their first year. We've got a sophomore, two sophomores really, Noah Allen who was hurt all of last year and Issac Hamilton who lost a year of eligibility, those are two of our sophomores that are really freshmen. We're doing it pretty much with five freshmen when you add G.G. and Thomas and Kevon. Of our eight man rotation, five of them are legitimately freshman, a sophomore, junior and senior. Part of our noise in the locker room, it's not as bad as what people are saying. We believe in you as coaches. This is part of the journey. You got to stay with it. You got to keep believing. You got to keep working everyday and believe in the system, believe in one another, and it's taken them a while to learn that trust within the team, and I think that's why from about February on they played very, very good basketball. Even in some tough losses, we've played really good basketball since about the first of February. And we know when we get to this point of the season, we got to play even better basketball because playing the likes of Gonzaga, you can't play average and then I don't think you're going to win. You got to be on point. And we know we've got to play a really good game tomorrow. We're going to have to put together 40 really high quality minutes.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

COACH ALFORD: I appreciate it. Thank you.

THE MODERATOR: First question here in the third row center. Microphone over for the student-athletes.

Q. For either you've guys, could y'all talk about what the team and maybe you individually learned from the first meeting with Gonzaga?

THE MODERATOR: Norman, why don't you start.

Norman Powell: We know they're a good team. They got a lot of guys that can shoot the ball and score, especially coming off their bench. Their starting five has done a great job all year establishing inside and outside presence. It's going to be us having to guard them and taking away their three.

Bryce Alford: Like he said. They have a lot of depth with big men. We got to be able to stop them from scoring in the paint and stop them from three ball, too, because they make a lot of 3s.

Q. Norman, what has been the key to y'all's balanced scoring with five guys in double figures this year?

NORMAN POWELL: I think we've done a great job of sharing the ball. Once we're able to establish inside presence in the paint with Tony and Kevon, the ball just seems to move on the perimeter because guys have to double Tony so it opens lanes for us to drive and gives opportunity for Bryce and Issac to knock down their outside shots. Being able to have a balance of the inside out. When we're able to do that, the ball seems to move around and seem to have a good balance and flow to our offense.

THE MODERATOR: Next question.

Q. Bryce, the talk at the beginning of the tournament was UCLA doesn't deserve to be here and now it's a love-fest for UCLA. What's the coach said. What has it been like for y'all as players to go through for the last two weeks?

BRYCE ALFORD: Try to ignore it. Outside voices don't matter in the end. Keep it all in the locker room, listen to what's going on in the locker room and focus on that, because at the end of the day, that's what goes out and plays the game. The outside voices don't make any difference on the game. So, we try to just focus everything on the locker room, and at the end of the day we're still getting doubted even though we're in the Sweet 16. We're picked as the 16th best team here. We know that's still in the back of our head, so we still got some more motivation.

THE MODERATOR: Next question.

Q. For both of you but Bryce first, is playing in a venue like this a shoot around extra important and what do you think of playing a game in a stadium like this?

BRYCE ALFORD: It's cool. You know, you get to go out there and you see how big the stadium is the scoreboard is huge, the court is elevated. All that stuff. It's what you dream of when you're a kid, playing in a venue like this. It's hard. You got to get used to the shooting. It's definitely different, but they've done a great job of I think making the background darker. There's black behind both hoops. So, I don't think it will be too much different than shooting in a normal gym.

NORMAN POWELL: The set-up for this is great. I had a chance to play here my sophomore year against Texas. I had a chance to be able to shoot in here, so I know what it's like. The set-up of this is great. Like Bryce said, the court is elevated. It's something you dream of, especially being here in the Sweet 16. It's going to be fun.

Q. Bryce, your dad talked about having the kind of balance between being your coach and dad and how he tries to take time to enjoy it. Do you think about it in that way, too?

BRYCE ALFORD: Yeah. You know, you get to a spot like this, you got to try to enjoy it a little bit. This isn't something that a lot of people get to have, the opportunity to be in the Sweet 16 and be on the same team as your brother, be on the same team as your dad and stuff like that. You have to enjoy it and not only enjoy it with those two but enjoy it with these guys on my teams. My teammates are brothers to me as well. It's a family affair, not only with us three but the whole team.

Q. For both of y'all, was there a moment this season where it felt like it clicked? I think Coach Alford said after February 1st y'all were playing really, really good basketball. Was there a moment when y'all felt like everything came together?

NORMAN POWELL: Yeah, definitely. In the conference, you know, when we had a home streak and we got -- I think after the Stanford game is when things started to click after the double overtime. We started to focus on defense and letting the defense control our offense and get out in transition, and when we were able to make teams take tough shots and limit them to one shot and get easy scores in transition, it started to click. I think the team did a great job of focusing on that in practice and really knowing and learning the position and plays.

BRYCE ALFORD: Like you said after that Stanford game, I'd have to agree. We won that game after losing five straight and then we come back home and win a tough game against a team that was hot. After that we kind of ran with it. We had some tough losses here and there, but we really started to have a sense of urgency to the way we played.

Q. Norman, as the senior leader, when you-all were in the midst of a five game losing streak, how do you keep it together, how do you keep encouraging the guys and saying things can get better?

NORMAN POWELL: Keep telling them to believe. I've been able to experience everything throughout my four years here. Tough freshman year. Better sophomore year. Sweet 16 experience my junior year. I've been able to see the ups and downs and ebb and flow of college basketball. Keeping them motivated and believing in one another and the system. Lot of these guys are experiencing this for the first time. Being in college they're all used to winning at their high school. Keeping them motivated and believing in the system and believing the outcome of what Coach is saying. The guys have done a great job with that. They've always been hungry to work throughout the five-game losing streak. They want to get better. When you have guys like that, it's really easy to keep them motivated on the task at hand.

Courtesy ASAP Sports

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