TJ Leaf (UCLA Athletics)

UCLA Hoops Looks Ahead to Crosstown Matchup With USC

Jan. 24 -- UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford and players TJ Leaf and Bryce Alford met with the media Tuesday ahead of the Bruins' crosstown matchup against USC...

STEVE ALFORD

On preparation following the loss to Arizona:

"We're very fortunate that we're 21 games into this and only experienced a setback twice. Last time we were on the road at Oregon our team really responded well by righting the ship and getting a win and working on some things. We have to do it again on the road which doesn't make it any easier when you're trying to bounce back. This team has had a resolve to them even when we've won games. We showed them teams on tape that, yeah we won, but there were a lot of mistakes. They've really corrected that even coming off wins. We saw a very determined team (Monday) night. We had a great practice and fully expect that again (Tuesday). They know that it's a big game for us. It gets us to the midpoint before the schedule changes and we play four on the road and five at home. This is the last game before we get into February -- the last full month before we start looking into postseason. We studied a lot film with them trying to correct things we've got to correct especially on the defensive end."

On working through defensive adjustments...

"I told the guys that we're not doing a lot of breakdown on the offensive end and we're the No. 1 offense in the country. The film sessions they had (Monday) were a little bit different cause I think it hit them. Losing at home in that atmosphere, we were so appreciative of the fans and the student section was incredible. We had a Den pizza party here at practice Monday and over 600 students showed up for that. Our guys are very appreciative but I think they were a little set back in that they lost a home game. That bothered them. They've always been a great group, but they seemed even more attentive. The reason why this team is No. 1 in offensive efficiency is because we're so unselfish on offense. We share it and the ball moves. We screen for each and we cut for each other. We get good shots. It's a very, very unselfish group. That's got to be learned now on the defensive end. Defensively we're too selfish. We leave guys on an island -- whether it's dribble-drive situations or bigs in the post or bigs in the perimeter. Really the focus is whether we can help and recover and be a team that works together in unison. We haven't done that and I think we've got their attention and I'm anxious to see how things happen on Wednesday because it is by nature an unselfish group, we've just got to get more unselfish on the defensive end."

On how the defensive lapses affected the offense against Arizona...

"If you're scoring 90 points a game or your efficiency is around 120 like it has been all year, that mentally wears on your opponent. That flipped on us in the Arizona game. Both halves were eerily similar with 48 points in each. It was the most points we've given up at home, so mentally it wore on them as well. Now all of a sudden it puts pressure on your offensive and for the first time I thought we pressed on shot selection and our quickness we got in a bit of a hurry. We didn't handle that well and it all started because we couldn't string together the stops."

On what it felt like to lose to USC three times last season...

"It wasn't as good as having the feeling when we beat USC five times in a row. I like that better. That's a better feeling. There were a lot of teams that beat us last year and we didn't play well. Obviously USC was one of those. Now we've got a two-game schedule and there could be a third before it's over with but this is a whole different team for them and a whole different team for us. It's a great rivalry because of what happened. With us winning the first five and now them sweeping us last year, it just escalates the rivalry. It makes it fun. We've been in front of those environments -- at Kentucky and here against Arizona, at Oregon -- we've had some terrific environments. This one will be the same."

On where the UCLA-USC rivalry stands among others he's been a part of...

"It reminds me more of my playing days at Indiana against Purdue. Some of the other rivalries in coaching I was at Iowa against Iowa State and that's a great rivalry for us but we weren't in the same league. I go to New Mexico and New Mexico is not in the same league, but we played twice a year. A home and home every year you get a true feel because if you lose at one place, you could get it back or you had a chance for a sweep. What makes this rivalry unique is that in a three-week period we're going to play each other twice."

On how he's able to gauge if players are catching on...

"Just their behavior at film and how they hit the practice court, their concentration and intensity level. We're seeing that and we've seen that in the last 48 hours. I would expect to see it again and this is a team that doesn't like losing. A lot of these guys didn't lose much in high school either. It's a team that understands winning. They've learned in a lot of wins this year of how to get better. We've been knocked to the floor twice and picked ourselves up the first time. Now we're going to see if we can do it a second time."

On what the team learned off loss to Arizona that it hadn't against Oregon...

"It's a good question because they know it and they've seen it, but learning is the question there. It's one thing if you hear something and another thing if you learn it, and then put it to practice. We've only seen it in practice but we've seen a different team the last couple of days and in the film sessions that I think they get it that they're not helping each other on the defensive end. We've got to talk more and we've got to worry about our positioning more to where we're helping teammates on the defensive end of the floor. We've got to me much more help oriented."

http://www.scout.com/player/157177-bryce-alford

BRYCE ALFORD

On losing to USC three times last year...

"You never want to lose to your rival and we know how big the rivalry is here across all sports. We know the importance of the rivalry and being just down the street from them, it is worse losing to them as opposed to another team but at the end of the day a loss is a loss. You don't ever want to lose to a team once let alone three times in a season."

On if the sting of those losses carry over to this season...

"So much happened last year that we just tried to move forward and just focus on the now and what we have in front of us. We're a much different team and so are they. They've got a couple different pieces and some guys go to the NBA, so it's two different teams from a year ago and two very good basketball teams that have played very well this year. We know we've got a challenge ahead of us and it's going to be a good game."

On the key to playing better defense...

"It's just a mindset for us. We've been so successful on offense on that this year that we focus on that when we're on the court and we forget how important the other end is. It's a mindset and we've got to come together as a team and just be more selfless on that end. We're an extremely unselfish group of guys especially on the offensive end but sometimes on the defensive side we're more focused on stopping our guy instead of stopping the other team."

On the UCLA-USC rivalry...

"It's on a national scale and everyone watches it. When everybody hears that it's rivalry week in L.A., it's a big deal to not only people in L.A. or California that are part of the programs but people all over the country. It's not just basketball, it's not just football, it's all the sports. It's a big game for us, it's a big game for them."

On the defense in practice...

"Personally I thought (Monday) was the best defensive effort we've given all year in practice. We had an extremely long film session just watching the Arizona tape and showing us how poor our defense was and how it was just about our mindset. It wasn't that they overmatched us physically, it was just our mindset on the defensive end. We just gave up way too many easy baskets. If we can continue to work on that that's huge."

On talking to Tyus Edney

"I've been picking his brain since I got here. Any time you've got a guy close to your program that won a national championship, you've got to pick his brain. His team has a lot of comparisons to this team and it's almost eerily similar how it's been so far, so he's been a huge part of what we've been this year and he's going to continue to be that guide for this team of how we can get to where we want to go."

http://www.scout.com/player/174710-t-j-leaf

TJ LEAF

On what it was like to see USC beat UCLA three times last year...

Just knowing it's a rivalry coming in and knowing they controlled each game last season, it's something (you look at) as a freshman coming in. It's a rivalry and you always want to beat your rivals. It's something we were looking forward to and now we get to play them. It's going to be a fun game. ... Obviously I wanted (UCLA) to win because that was my future school and I wanted them to be successful, but it wasn't so much being angry, just more excited to come in and try to make an impact. ... I knew I could come in and help the team be successful in certain ways, and definitely with Lonzo and Ike I knew we had those abilities. I knew watching those games what we could be this year and now I'm excited to be in that moment and play them."

On improving defensively...

"The film work we've been doing and the on-court is something that is going to help us a lot if we're able to put it into play. The coaches see that and we see that, and I think we're starting to get it. A lot of times when the coaches are trying to teach us a lesson after a win, it's almost like 'Who cares, we won the game.' Saturday we pretty much got handled the whole game and that showed us what we really need to work on. I think it really put us all in our place and it was a really good lesson for us."

On the defensive mistakes...

"Obviously Arizona is a talented team and they handled us in certain ways, but those are some things we've been seeing all year that have been going wrong. It's just when you put a very talented opponent like that, it makes them a little bit more noticeable."


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