Steve Alford (USA Today)

UCLA Media Availability Before Pac-12 Tournament

Mar. 7 -- UCLA men's basketball coach Steve Alford, players Bryce Alford, Thomas Welsh and Isaac Hamilton met with the media Tuesday afternoon for the final time before the Pac-12 Conference tournament tips off...

COACH STEVE ALFORD

On TJ Leaf's injured ankle...

"I think it's progressing very well. He'll resume practice today and we're going to ease him back. We gave everyone Sunday and Monday off, like we said after the game on Saturday, to get away from it for a couple days and kind of reboot. His treatments have gone very well. He's healing very well. We'll have a practice (Wednesday) and fully anticipate him going on Thursday."

On the final stretch of the regular season...

"That's why we wanted to give them two days off because I think they've done a great job to the end of this season. All through February up to the first week of March, they finished league play as well as they could finish. Now it's about getting away from it, watch everyone else play for a couple of days, get away from basketball altogether if you want, and now when we meet we're ready to go. It's our next bracket. It has Washington and SC in it and we're on that bracket with three other teams if we're fortunate enough to move on. Then we've got the championship bracket, so the guys have been good about getting onto the next game and hopefully these two days off have refreshed their minds. Being sharp this time of year knowing you're in two different tournaments is something you're always concerned about."

On how they game plan for Game 1 of the Pac-12 tournament...

"We've played everybody but four teams twice. These two teams -- SC we played about three weeks ago, Washington just last week -- so whether (Markelle) Fultz is in the mix or not we don't know yet. We've played them once with Fultz and once without, and obviously we know SC pretty well so we're good going into this one. Then if we're fortunate enough to advance, we can play one of three other teams. It's not so much about what the other team is doing as much as it is what you're doing. The prep is so quick. We're not going to know who we're playing until late Wednesday night, so about the time we're getting down is when we find out who we're playing."

On whether he will watch USC-Washington...

"Not in person, but I will be in the hotel. We will have three of our coaches there."

On the bracket...

It's definitely a tough route but it's just the way it happens. We have played in that arena, so we're familiar. We don't get a lot of practice time -- in fact, we don't get any because our slot is in the morning and obviously won't make it by then. Our slot is 9:30 the next day and we won't get our guys up at 8 to get a 20-minute shoot around when we don't play until 8:30 on Thursday night. We'll just get that normal 27-minute warm up but we'll talk to the guys about what we've got to do and being who we are. It's about taking care of the ball, taking good shots, that's always going to be crucial offensively. Then defensively, just knowing our assignments, finishing with good active hands, getting rebounds and going. The guys know what's ahead of them regardless of who we've got to play. We've done a good job of beating everyone on our schedule and doing the things game to game that you have to do to be a good basketball team. We're like everybody else in this tournament and other conference tournaments, you've got to play good basketball to advance. If we play good basketball, then I like our chances of advancing. If we don't play good basketball, then there's enough good teams we'll be playing here in the conference tournament that we won't be there very long."

"It is comforting to know we've been in there and played in that arena. Our guys will at least be familiar."

On maintaining sharpness...

"We've been in league play for two and a half months, so right about Christmas we've been in league play. So that's been an 18-game deal and now all of a sudden, you're not going to play everybody in league but as we've told our guys, you got to win one game with a chance to play three. The next tournament you're guaranteed one game with a chance to play six. So they're a little bit different. We always talk about seasons -- Season 1 being non-conference, Season 2 with conference, Season 3 being the conference tournament and Season 4 being the NCAA Tournament. For those seasons to continue, you've got to win. Now if you lose you go home. We'll talk about that to the guys and obviously they know that. We've had success in this tournament and hopefully we'll go play well again this year."

On the excitement of March...

"I'm always excited this time of year. Growing up in it and playing in it first, and now coaching it for 26 years, you get to that second week of March, it's just a blast. It's fun. There's a lot of hoopla from a fan standpoint and the players take on new energy because you're just coming out of a grind that is the conference season that has lasted two and a half months. We've played teams twice and it's a way of refreshing. Coaches are the same way. But I am excited about this team because I've got a very good team and high-character guys. It's fun going into the postseason with this bunch of guys."

On the benefits of getting GG Goloman minutes in Leaf's absence...

"We've had that in November and December when we were without Thom, Ike and GG for a stretch. When those guys were out, it helped the other guys because they got more minutes. GG got a lot of minutes in the last two games. Only time will tell but we hope that's helped him and given him some confidence in what he could do because I thought he was aggressive. He might have missed a play here or there but he's always been very sound and position oriented player. Really active, but I thought his offensive game he was more aggressive on the backboard and aggressive driving the ball, which I think he's really good. He missed a couple shots inside, but I thought his moves were really good. Hopefully his timing continues to improve but the minutes he got I thought he played really well."

GUARD BRYCE ALFORD

On the level of confidence heading into the postseason...

"I haven't been this confident going into a Pac-12 Tournament or a postseason in my career. Obviously my freshman year I was very confident going into postseason with that group of guys we had and I've always been a very confident guy, but this year there is something about us. We're built for this kind of stuff."

On not practicing in Las Vegas...

"(Having played there) helps. I've always been somebody that says it makes a difference -- the arena, the rims, the balls. It makes a difference, especially for a guy like me, a shooter. Getting to an arena and being familiar with it, that definitely helps, so having that game against Ohio State under our belt is going to help us but, more than anything, it's the game of basketball and we've got to go out and play."

On the potentially tough route through the bracket...

"We could potentially be playing three tournament teams. That's what you expect in the Pac-12. You get to the tournament and your goal is to get that first-round bye. We accomplished that this year and in the semis or quarterfinals you're going to have a tough opponent no matter what, so it's win or go home. That's how it is come this time of year, so if we just keep that mentality and play the way we've been playing, winning nine straight, I think we'll be just fine."

On keeping the edge...

"Just the way college basketball is set up with how big the tournament is and how hyped it gets, it's not hard to get engaged this time of year. You might think there's a wall or guys get tired, but everybody in the country is beat up this time of year. Everybody is beat up from playing 30 games and playing in tough conference games, so now it's all about using that adrenaline of the tournament, the hype around it and the ability to go after the championship, there is nothing like that so it's easy to keep that edge."

On potentially playing on back-to-back-to-back nights...

"It is definitely tough, especially for teams that don't have very much depth. I think we've done a good job of spacing out our minutes with our guys and we've been in the same rotation all year, so we're used to playing those minutes. Playing back-to-back-to-back is different, but growing up in the AAU age of playing three or four games, we're used to it. ... We've got the legs to sustain it. So it's not a big deal."

CENTER THOMAS WELSH

On the Pac-12 Tournament set up...

"It's probably better to have a day off in between games, but it is what it is and it's about having a great 40 minutes whenever you're out there. It's definitely tougher to not have much preparation on the team you're playing, but you've just got to play your game."

On earning All-Pac-12 All Academic honors...

"It's an honor to receive an award like that because I try to do the best I can in the classroom, so it definitely feels good."

On hitting his first three...

"That was awesome. It's something I've been wanting to do for a while. I think I'm very good on those 15- and 17-foot jump shots and I haven't really had a lot of attempts from three-point land in practice, just because I've been practicing those 15 footers. But the last couple of days heading into that game I was just in the gym with Isaac and a buddy of mine just working on it. Just took an opportunity, took it and it went in. Super excited about that."

"I know I can knock it down, so it's just about doing what I do. Maybe if I get a good shot in rhythm, why not take it? I can shoot it pretty darn well, but it's about doing what we do as a team and moving the ball well. I don't want to be jacking up threes. That's probably not a good idea, but if I have a shot I'd be willing to take it."

GUARD ISAAC HAMILTON

On the team's readiness for the tournament...

"Guys are excited and TJ is back in practice. We're enjoying it and taking it one day at a time. ... We stay locked in and playing a good brand of basketball right now. Just continue to keep playing it. We've played both teams twice already so we've got confidence we can stick to the game plan."

On Lonzo Ball's calm demeanor...

"Before the games he gives us a little pep speech. Other than that, that's the demeanor of the team. We're all pretty even keeled. ... It works. He's trying to get guys excited."

On his time at UCLA...

"Man, I could remember walking in to meeting coach Alford for the first time, now it was the last home game. It was crazy and surreal. Just excited to be here and we've still go things to accomplish. ... I gave up a year and it was tough, but I looked at it as time to get better. I prepared myself mentally for college basketball."


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