UCLA Coach Steve Alford and Players Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford and TJ Leaf React to the No. 3 Seed in the South

Mar. 12 -- UCLA men's basketball coach Steve Alford, players Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford and TJ Leaf discussed the Bruins' seeding in the NCAA Tournament...

STEVE ALFORD

Opening remarks...

"We’re excited to be able to play in Sacramento and get that first bracket and stay West. I think it was important and our guys have obviously worked hard throughout the season. You get to this point of the season and every game’s going to be a battle and you’ve got to be playing good basketball obviously when you get in the tournament. Hopefully we can continue to get healthy this week but we like where we’re at."

On Lonzo Ball's thumb...

"He’s fine. He just had a strain to it, so he’ll be fine and if there was any silver lining [it’s] TJ playing two games instead of three games in three days. He’s healing much better now too, so obviously getting those guys to 100% is going to be crucial.

On when the injury happened...

"I think it was an airball shot that came off and he was underneath the basket and the ball hit him and went out of bounds, actually their ball. I think it was the first half."

On the South Regional...

"I have not even looked at it, to be honest with you."

... North Carolina, Kentucky...

"Yeah and I’ll comment with that if we get to that point. ... The NCAA tournament is about your four-team bracket and that’s what you’ve got to concentrate on or you’ll never get to any other part of it. We’ve been to two Sweet 16s in the last three years. The last time we were there it was about SMU and UAB was there and maybe Iowa State, so now we know what our bracket looks like and those are the teams we’ve got to really focus on, in particular Kent State. It’s one game at a time but it’s really about a mini-tournament, so it’s hard. It’s hard or players, it’s hard for obviously fans, but you try to look at the entire bracket. You want to stay as long as you can and when you’re trying to win it, you’ve got three mini-brackets that you’ve got to win and our first one is in Sacramento."

On what NCAA Selection Day is like for the players...

"I was talking to Isaac and Bryce about it. Two years ago, we didn’t know if we were going to get in so it’s a little more anxious and so then there’s a lot of euphoria about seeing your name called and getting in the tournament. And then we played well. Our guys relaxed and did a lot of good things obviously and made it to the Sweet 16, but today was different. Today was a group of guys just sitting there and you know we’re in, you just don’t know probably if we’re a two or a three seed and where we’re going and who we’re playing. It’s a little bit different demeanor. These guys know that their body of work tells them that they’re in this tournament and they’ve got as good a chance as anybody. We’ve beaten the Pac-12 champ, we’ve beaten the SEC champ, we’ve beaten the Big Ten champ and two of those three have been on the road, so we’ve only lost one game away from here on a neutral court and that was against Arizona in Vegas, so we’ve done the job away from home and obviously in the NCAA tournament you’ve got to win neutral-site games and I think our guys have confidence that they’ve done that all year. Now it’s about fine-tuning some things, getting healthy here this week and really being sharp going into it."

On what they need to do to get back in rhythm...

"Well, as far as not looking at ourselves, and I was telling the guys this, the nonconference’s season’s a month and a half. The conference season, we played Oregon three days after Christmas and we’ve been playing Pac-12 teams now for 2 1/2 months. We were a little beat up going into the Pac-12 tournament—no excuses—but we had a very tough route. We had to play SC, who I think, and it showed out in the tournament, they’re the fourth-best team in our league this year, so we had to play them and they’re a rival to boot on top of that and then you’re playing Arizona next, so sometimes your opponents have an impact on how you play as well and I respect that, but we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well and we didn’t quite have that demeanor that we had in the regular season, so it’s really about having a good swag, having a good demeanor going into the tournament knowing that we’re one of those teams that have a chance to advance in this because we’ve proven it during the course of the season. We’ve been a top-10 team since the Kentucky game, so guys need to have that confidence going in. But other than that, just continue to fine-tune what we do offensively. I didn’t think we pushed the ball offensively as fast as what we would like to in the Pac-12 tournament. Defensively, we did some pretty good things until the second half of the Arizona game."

On Kent State...

"Well, they’re out of the MAC, they’ve won nine of their last 10, which is always impressive. They just beat the No. 1 seed in Akron in the conference tournament and I watched a little bit of that not knowing who we were playing, just watching TV yesterday I got to see three-fourths of that game not paying a whole lot of attention to it but just watching basketball on TV. They’ve done a lot of good things. Obviously, Western Michigan’s in that league, we played Western Michigan. Unless I’m mistaken, that’s the only MAC team we’ve played this year but I’m a Midwest guy so I know a lot about the MAC. We’ve played Miami of Ohio, we’ve played Toledo, we’ve played several of those teams when I was at Indiana. Ball State is 20 minutes from my hometown in New Castle, so I know a lot about the Mid-American Conference and I have a lot of respect for it."

On Bryce Alford's shooting struggles...

"Just emotion, I think. I really do. I think there was a lot of emotion to senior night and getting through all that and immediately going to the Pac-12 tournament and he’s a focal point. Teams obviously get into him and have done a nice job, but I thought he got some really good looks that he normally does make and he was out of rhythm a little bit, but I think a lot of that has to do with just the emotion of senior night and beyond, there was just so much about it and sometimes that can get you a little bit out of rhythm and I’ve talked to him about that. Now, do what you do. You’ve got a tough mind-set, TJ, battling an injury. Whatever it is, whether it’s injury or emotion or whatever it is, you get to the NCAA tournament and it’s about having that tough mind-set of dealing with those things and doing what you do best and if that’s off, then you have to do some other things and I fully anticipate him and everybody else will bounce back."

On how the loss to Arizona impacted seeding...

"I don’t think so. I would think we’ve been probably on that three line for a long time, is what it looks like."

On what he wants to see from Lonzo...

"Be Lonzo [laughs]. Just be Lonzo and I’ve got full trust in that’s what we’ll see because that’s what we’ve seen all year long. Eyes have been on him for a long time. There’s people waiting for us at every juncture that we go to and he handles it like a champ all the time. It’s not what he’s about and he doesn’t worry about those things, what’s said or how he’s been built up. He plays the game for one reason and that’s to win, so we just need Lonzo to be Lonzo. Go out and be the best player that you are and when he’s at his best, this team is at it’s best. So I have all the trust in the world he’s not somebody who gets to the postseason and changes who he is. He’s going to do the things he can to help his team win."

On how he can address the possibility of an upset...

"Don’t spend much time on upsets. Those things happen, that’s why it’s March Madness. I can’t even tell you the teams in our bracket right now that’s on the other side. I’m sure our guys are going to know that as they start looking at it, but it’s not about looking at that, it’s about Kent State and for the next five days—I think we leave here on Wednesday—they’re going to hear one team we talk about and that’s Kent State. You have to. And then if we’re lucky enough to win that one, Saturday we’ll talk about our next opponent. But the minute you start looking past and doing those things, that’s when upsets occur. So it’s our job as coaches to make sure our players are point-blank and all their concentration’s on Kent State and it’s the players’ job to understand that’s the magic of the tournament—one messup now, you don’t get another game. If you want to keep playing, you’ve got to keep winning."

On how the team has bounced back from losses...

"We’ll talk about that tomorrow when we meet and that’s exactly what we want to happen. We lost to Oregon, we won six in a row, we lost two in a row and we pulled off 10 in a row. I’m not even going to ask them to win 10 in a row but if they can do what they did after the loss to Oregon, we’ll all be very happy. What we do is we look at those things as, these are things they can build on that they’ve already done it. They’ve lost a game and then strung a streak together. So here we are going into the NCAA tournament off a loss, this isn’t new territory. You’ve lost a game before and been able to bounce back and not just string one game together but several games together and I know that’s their goal. Like everybody else, you have to play well. At this time of year you have to play good basketball. You can’t expect to win playing poor basketball. The teams are too good."

On whether he has seen his team's best basketball...

"Well, we’ve been pretty good. The month of February and into March, we’ve been pretty good. I don’t think we saw our best basketball in Vegas. Those two games were not the way we had been playing. Can we play better than what we did in early March and February? I trust this team that they can because at every juncture they’ve been able to crank things up and we’re much better defensively than what we were in late January, so that’s a key. Now it’s about getting our rhythm back offensively, playing faster with good decision-making and obviously making shots and really having a good balance to our inside-outside game. Those are going to be critical moving forward."

On any ties to Kent State...

"No. Not that I know of."

BRYCE ALFORD

On his feelings heading into the tournament...

"Just excited more than anything. Any time you're blessed with an opportunity to play in this tournament, no matter where you are or who you're playing, you're just excited. Having to go a full year without playing in it last year, just to see our name up there was awesome."

On the reaction in the room when the seed was revealed...

"We have a pretty good idea of the range we would be and obviously we waited a little bit being in the third bracket, but we have a pretty good idea that we would be in that bracket. We're excited about it and everybody was excited about getting a three seed, which is a good seed in the tournament. That's a seed that sets you up well. You can stay close to home for the first round so overall we're really excited about where we're at."

On what he knows about Kent State...

"We haven't talked a whole lot about them obviously just finding out a little bit ago but they're a very hot team that just won their conference tournament, so we know they're a very good team. Anybody you play in this tournament is a very good team and they're very hot right now, which should be scary."

On the message to the younger players that haven't experienced the tournament...

"Just that every team we're going to play, regardless of the name on their jersey is going to be a big-time team. At this stage of the game it's win or go home and everybody is going to be fighting and clawing. We have to be ready right from the jump of the game and treat every possession like it's our last. In the NCAA Tournament every possession means just a little bit more."

On what they have to do to get their fun style back...

"I think just get back to our basics. There were a couple times in the tournament when we were trying to figure out what play we were running instead of just playing our game, running up and down. For us, like it's been all year, it's about the defensive end and when we get stops, that's when we get to our run and fun. If anything, it's just getting our swagger back a little bit and having that confidence that we can play with anybody."

On a possible carryover effect from Senior Night to Pac-12 Tournament...

"I don't want to make any excuses. Obviously I've had a stretch here of two or three games where I haven't shot as well as I have all year. I'm a confident guy; I don't like to make excuses of Senior Night having that effect. I just missed some open shots I normally make and hopefully I can just get back to what I was doing earlier."

On the one-and-done concept affecting the younger players...

"I'm not too worried about it. We've got a lot of guys that have handled pressure all year very well. Me being a coach's kid having the pressure that I've had, I don't feel that I'll see the pressure and have it affect me. Lonzo has all kinds of pressure with who he is and the name he has, and the same with TJ. We've got guys that had dealt with pressure all year being a top five team, every game you've got the pressure that you're supposed to win. I think that's going to help us going forward."

On confidence having already beaten possible Sweet Sixteen opponent Kentucky...

"Any time you can beat a team like Kentucky at their place that builds a lot of confidence. Knowing we've beat them before gives us confidence, but that was months and months ago, so it's going to be two completely different teams if that were to happen. Obviously a lot still has to happen, so right now we're just focusing on our first game."

TJ LEAF AND LONZO BALL

On feelings after the NCAA Tournament selection show...

LEAF: "It's good, exciting and we're excited about where we're at. It's time to go to work.

BALL: "Yeah, it's great that we got in and now we've got to out there for ourselves.

TJ Leaf on how he's feeling...

"Great."

Lonzo Ball on how he's feeling...

"I'm fine. ... (The ball) came down awkwardly but I'll be ready to play on Friday."

TJ Leaf on how he's holding up...

"Good, just excited for Friday."

On how practices altered their rhythm at Pac-12 Tournament...

LEAF: "Maybe a little bit, but at the end of the day we didn't play how we should play and we're ready to show everyone how we do play on Friday."

On how they can get back their rhythm...

BALL: "We just have to go out there and play our game."

On Kent State...

LEAF: "I know they beat Akron which was the No. 1 seed so that's obviously a huge win for them, and they're a tough team so we're excited to play them."

BALL: "I know that's the first game on our schedule, man."

On his finger...

"I'll be fine."

On bouncing back after losses this season...

BALL: "Just go out there every time and focus on winning. We have to take it one game at a time and win six straight."

On approaching the first game of March Madness...

BALL: "Everybody wants to win so like I said you've got to take it one game at a time and just go 1-0 in every game."

On what would be a satisfying result in the tournament...

BALL: "Championship. We don't play to lose."

On the rest of the South bracket...

LEAF: "We play Kent State, so we're focusing on Kent State."

On how he feels heading into the NCAA Tournament...

BALL: "Feeling is great and full of joy, so I can't wait to get out there and play. Obviously we have to redeem ourselves since we didn't win the Pac-12, so it's a great chance to go out there and prove ourselves."

On waiting five days to play...

BALL: "It's not tough, more practices, get up and down a little bit more and be ready to go."

On the approach in win-or-go-home scenarios...

BALL: "It shouldn't affect anything. You should always go out there and play like it's your last game. Like I said, you've got to go into every game focused and trying to get that win."


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