THE MODERATOR: From UCLA, we have student-athletes Bryce Alford and Lonzo Ball. Gentlemen, welcome. Can you characterize, Lonzo, the season thus far for UCLA and the high points? How you felt the season ended up?
LONZO BALL: It's been a good season so far. I think we only lost four games. That's always a positive and we have a chance to do something special this year and we're trying to take every game one at a time and take it from there.
BRYCE ALFORD: Going off what he said, it's been a special year. Been here for four years now and this is the most fun that I've had playing basketball at UCLA, and like he said, we've got a lot of work left to do. But it's been a fun year to date and hopefully we can finish it the way that we started.
Q. Guys, I know you want to get back to playing the way you did before the Pac-12 Tournament. How has that gone in practice as you guys are trying to recapture that joyous run and fun style?
BRYCE ALFORD: That's our personality as individuals and as a team. We love to have fun. We're a goofy team in the locker room. We like to have fun with each other. We're a very close team. I don't think it will be difficult. We had a stretch where we didn't play well, but we did that in the middle of conference season and then we got right back to what we do. With a new tournament and March Madness, I think we will be fine.
Q. Obviously, being from the Pac-12, playing big schools all year, how have you been preparing for Kent State a team that you haven't seen through the season? What's the preparation like?
LONZO BALL: In a tournament like this, conference don't matter. Every team is good. We know that, and we've got to come out and play our game.
Q. Lonzo, a year ago you were in this town playing with your high school team and you won the State Championship with your brother. How does it feel to transition from one year to the next year being in another tournament, probably a more impactful tournament?
LONZO BALL: It's a great feeling. This year the stakes are bigger since it's college and not high school, but anytime you have a chance to go out and compete in a tournament it's a blessing. So thankful for my coaches and thankful for my teammates and excited to see what we can do this year.
Q. What were your thoughts when your father said he could have killed Michael Jordan one-on-one in his hay day and what would you say to people who think that's a distraction for you and the team?
LONZO BALL: He's been like that my whole life. It's nothing new to me. He's got a camera in front of his face now so y'all are seeing it for the first time. But, to be honest he probably thinks he can do that. He is bigger than him. That is his thinking process. He's never going to change for the cameras. He's been the same his whole life.
Q. Lonzo, I noticed that your thumb is still taped. Can you tell us how you're feeling?
LONZO BALL: I will be fine. It's just a sprain, easy to play through.
Q. Lonzo, can you take your dad out there in the backyard or front yard?
LONZO BALL: Yeah, he's old now. Back in the day, no. He was too big, too strong. But I think now, once we get up and down a little bit he'll tap out.
Q. Bryce, when you guys talk about run and gun, up-tempo offense it doesn't seem like it's suited for a guy like Thomas, 7 foot. What does he do to fit into that system even at his size?
BRYCE ALFORD: Just because he's 7 foot doesn't mean he can't run. He moves well for his size and he's in as good a shape as all of us, and he's adapted his game to our style. But he's one of our best shooters on the team, so he spaces the floor for us really well. He does a great job of screening and we give him the ball in the post and he does a great job there. Might not be his exact style, but he's fit in really well to what we do.
Q. Bryce, Pac-12, four teams, one number twos, two number threes and one number 11, USC. Can you talk about playing in the Pac-12 and going through that process. Even though the Pac-12 doesn't get the respect that it absolutely deserves, talk about those other teams, couple of teams that didn't make it that made your guys road a tough one.
BRYCE ALFORD: Like you said, the Pac-12 hasn't got a whole lot of respect this year, only got four teams in the tournament and USC barely snuck in, and I thought they deserved to be in for sure, having 24 wins. They're a very good basketball team, and then you've got the top three teams in us, Oregon and Arizona who I think all have a legit shot at being Final Four teams and title contenders.
So some of the best individual players come from the Pac-12. You will see that come draft time. There will be top 5 pick from the Pac-12, and some of the best teams are from the Pac-12. It might be a little top heavy this year, but overall the Pac-12 in my four years has been very, very good.
Q. Lonzo, how are your brothers dealing with you in your first tournament game? Are they excited? Have they given you advice?
LONZO BALL: I'm the oldest, so they don't give me too much advice. But I'm sure they'll be watching and they're proud of me.
Q. Bryce, tell me about the experience in the tournament and you've seen what it takes to win a couple of games in this tournament. You want to go all the way to the Final Four. Do you think this style running as much as you do can sustain? Is there enough defense?
BRYCE ALFORD: Yeah, our defense has been asked about all year. You're not the first to ask about our defense. It's been a question mark for a lot of people. We're confident in our defense. We're not going to be a team that holds teams in the low 60s or 50s or something like that, but this is a smart group of people on this team and when we need stops we get 'em. That's what's gotten us to where we are so far, and our offense speaks for itself.
If we continue to do what we've done all year on the offensive end, if we can play our defense the way we have in February and March so far I think we will be fine.
Q. You guys literally had the last tip-off of the first round and the games on TruTV. Do you find that odd? You did some great things this year. Seems like you're in the shadows of this tournament a little bit at least to start.
BRYCE ALFORD: To be honest, I haven't thought about that at all. We don't try to focus on our TV exposure or what people are saying in the media. We just try to go out and focus on Kent State right now. We didn't get to choose our time of where we play or who we play. We just go out there and try to do what we gotta do.
Q. Lonzo, obviously a lot of people want to get here their whole lives. They dream about this moment. For you this is probably going to be your on only one. How are you approaching this tournament?
LONZO BALL: Same thing I do every game. Go out there and try to help my team and do everything we can to win.
Q. Bryce, talk about your father and how fun that experience has been, a once-in-a-lifetime experience?
BRYCE ALFORD: Yeah, obviously I've been through this for four years with him by my side. It's been extremely fun. There have been ups and downs and the challenges of being a coach's kid and dealing with that in LA and the pressures that come behind that.
But at the end of the day I wouldn't trade my experience at UCLA and my experience for anything, and I don't know if I could have done it without him by my side. It's been an absolute blast and I'm very, very thankful and blessed for the opportunity.
Q. Bryce, since you have experience in this tournament what kind of advice have you given to Lonzo about how this setting is different than the regular season?
BRYCE ALFORD: To be honest, I don't have to give too much advice to Lonzo. He's a very smart basketball player. He knows what he's doing out there and he does a great job of be not letting pressure get to him. Obviously with who he is there is a lot of pressure that comes behind the name that he has in college basketball. He hasn't let that get to him all year and if anything I give him snip picks of what I've been through in the tournament. I've been to the Sweet 16 twice and just to treat it like every game. You just heard him say that. He's got his head on straight. I don't need to tell him a whole lot.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen.
We now have Coach Steve Alford, UCLA, 4th year with the Bruins, 26th year overall as a head coach and owns NCAA Tournament wins at four different schools, Missouri State, Iowa, New Mexico and UCLA. Coach, welcome to Sacramento.
STEVE ALFORD: Thank you very much. We're excited to be here. Injury update. We got TJ and Lonzo are back near to 100%, I think. Unfortunately, on Tuesday, Ike sprained a foot. He's day-to-day. He's been getting treatment since Tuesday. So he's a little day-to-day, but other than that we're healthy and excited to be here. Looking forward to the tournament.
Q. Coach, could you review your season a little bit? You had some very big wins and some very big highs this year?
STEVE ALFORD: We did. We've been very consistent and that's what I've liked about this team. The team has been so consistent from day one, really all the way back to Australia. We lost a game in Australia and that was probably the best thing that happened to us. A pro team beat us over there and the guys, I think, got very close to one another at that point and that was in August.
We got back. School started in late September. Practice starts early October. Now we're 95-plus practices in and 33 games in, and we've had a lot of consistency to go through our schedule. We've won at the Pac-12 champs place. We've won at the SEC champ's place, and we beat the Big Ten champ at our place as well at our place.
So we have had some good wins, some key wins, lost four games in the year to three teams and yet we have avenged all those losses. To be at 33 games in and starting the national tournament knowing that you've beaten everybody on your schedule is speaks volumes to what these young men have done because that's not easy to do.
Q. Coach, is your expectation that Ike will be able to play?
STEVE ALFORD: It's up in the air. It's day-to-day. He's got a sprained foot and each day it's gotten better since Tuesday, but it will probably be a game day decision. We don't play until 7, so we will have to see how things go today and tomorrow.
Q. What do you know about Kent State Golden Flashes and playing these lower seeds? You didn't have a lot of experience in your college career and coaching career playing lower seeds?
STEVE ALFORD: Right. I probably know more about The Mid-American Conference than most of our guys. I grew up 20 minutes from Ball State in Newcastle, so I've followed a lot of players in that league. Eddie Schilling who is on my staff played in Ohio with Ron Harper, had a great career there.
So I know about the conference very well and winning nine out of ten at this level is not easy and they've won it continuing to fight, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind. But it's going to give us a look that we haven't seen in a while. Pac-12 is usually big, big, and there are a lot of four-guard line-ups out there against Kent State.
So we've got to go back to the way we were playing in November and December as far as the style that was being played against us. But Hall is a big, terrific inside, leads them in about every statistical category. That's not easy. Walker and Edwin are special guards. They surround them with guys that understand how to play. It is a team that's hot and playing very, very well and they're going to play a little differently than what we have been accustomed to because of playing four-guard line-ups. We don't see a lot of that in conference play.
Q. How fun has it been for you to coach Lonzo Ball and your son over these years? He's said he has had a great time with you.
STEVE ALFORD: It's been a blast! I've said it since coming to Westwood. It's a blessing. It's an honor. It's such a privilege to be there and to be able to coach there and let alone go through four years with Bryce. First with my oldest son Kory, two years at New Mexico and my last two years there and the success we had. And the first two years we went to Sweet 16s, won a Pac-12 Championship while he was there. That was fun. He's a video coordinator on our staff. So he's a part of it.
Now Bryce with what he's been able to do, probably as critiqued and evaluated as any player that's played at UCLA in a long, long time. He knew right from the beginning that's what being a coach's kid is all about. I was a coach's kid, but I was a coach's kid at high school level not at the collegiate level at UCLA in Los Angeles and the tradition-rich place like UCLA is. Very proud of him from a coaching standpoint of seeing how he's evolved and gotten better as a player each and every year. Very proud of him as a father of how he's handled everything. He's been unwavering. He's stayed true to his beliefs. He's been a tremendous teammate, great leader, somebody that guys want to play with and be around.
Those are things from a father's standpoint of how he's grown as a person that we have had a lot of fun with. Sharing that as a family is a lot of fun. Lonzo? Lonzo is just fun to coach. I was a player first. He's fun to be on the same team with, Tracy Murray does our radio and I told him on a broadcast about two games ago, and I said, Tracy, if you and I were on the team even at our age we would have fun shooting the ball the moves and the shots that you get.
Lonzo can beat you by getting 15 rebounds, 15 assists, 25 points, guarding your best player on the other team. He's so disruptive to the other team because of his talent and skill set. As good as he is from a skill set he's a better person and he has a good understanding of how to orchestrate a game. Those are hard traits. There are a lot of guys out there skilled, but to orchestrate a game. Where does the ball gotta go? Whose gotta get a touch? Who is hot? What kind of a stop do we have to get now? Who do we have to guard right? He's got a great, great feel with that. Those two guys have been fun to coach, but this team is a great teach to coach and it's great to be around these high-character guys.
Q. Lonzo said he was not surprised to hear that his father said he could have killed Michael Jordan one-on-one. What do you think and how do you respond to people who think he might be a distraction to the program?
STEVE ALFORD: It's been no distraction to us and a lot of that has to do with Lonzo, who he is, a strong-willed kid, way beyond his 18 years of age. He's a special talent both mentally and physically, and it's how he's wired. He's been built this way. He's been built for this.
So I'm excited. I can't wait until 7:00 tomorrow night to where we can tip this thing and get this tournament underway because this is what he's been built for and wired for and I think the 33 games we've been through plus the practices, this team has kinda been building toward this. Doesn't mean it's going to be ultra successful, but I do like coming into the tournament the way we are with the group of guys that we're going into it with. These are the guys I want to go into battle with and obviously Lonzo is a huge piece to that.
Q. Steve, according to the stats, the new stats that you see all the time now, teams with high tempo don't fare as well in the tournament against teams that try to slow it down, but you've been able to run pretty much all year. How do you do that against a team that doesn't want to run with you?
STEVE ALFORD: We've got to be true to who we are. I thought in the Pac-12 tournament that was the first time that not only wasn't it our tempo but offense wasn't as good. We have been pretty much the number one offense efficiency all year long and we have had staggering numbers like 122 and the benchmark is 110.
If you can have an efficiency of 110 that's a good offense. We've been at 122 most of the year and the Pac-12 tournament games we were at 100. So that was a drastic drop. What you've seen defensively, I think the two losses in a row, losing to Arizona at home and at SC, got our guys' attention, our defensive efficiency was at 105, 106 and those eleven games since then we have won 10 out of 11.
Our defensive efficiency has been at 96, benchmark being 95. So we're getting closer to what we want to do defensively so I don't think it's so much about changing anything or doing something to Kent State or whoever it may be. We talked about this week be true to who we do. The ball has to move, be true to who we are. The ball stuck in Vegas. I didn't like our ball movement our screening or spacing. We've been good that all year. That's what we've gotten back to the last five days and kind of try to refine and reboot what we've been doing defensively.
I don't think you're going to see us change tempo because we have been able to win games with slower tempo and keep our efficiency up. So if it is a slower tempo that's not as drastic to me as does it change who we are. We have to stay who we are offensively and defensively.
Q. If Ike is unable to play, how will that change your rotation?
STEVE ALFORD: We have played seven a lot! Because we've gone really outside the last couple of weeks, three weeks we've had either GG out, Tom out for a while. TJ missed two games for us, and Ike has been in and out most season. So we have had maybe 12 plus games where we had a seven-man rotation. We've got experience doing that. We hope that's not the case, but at least we have something we can go back on. Look, we've played -- we got the opportunity to go four guards because those four guards are special.
So if we have to play some more four guards we have been able to do that when we had a seven-man rotation. We have to see how Ike does over the next 24 hours, but if by chance he's not playing we have had success playing seven guys.
Q. Coach, when and how did you hear about Crean at Indiana's firing today, and is it your goal to get back to Indiana? If so, would you take a phone call at the end of the season?
STEVE ALFORD: I don't know how I found out. It's just news. It's March Madness, and unfortunately in our business you're either on top or something like this is happening to all of us. I've been in a long time, 26 years now. So I've seen things evolve and how they go, but that's never been something that I look at, whether it be that job or other jobs. I learned a long time ago when I was probably four or five years into the job, I started interviewing for jobs that that's what I wanted.
When I quickly trusted God and my faith my journey has taken me to places I had no idea that that was going to be my journey and I've fallen in love with every spot. I've met great people, great institutions. Obviously, that was 30 years ago. I was a part of that. I stood on stage with a great group of guys and won a National Championship. It's my home state. I played there.
So obviously all that comes up, but I love UCLA. I love Los Angeles. You're talking about arguably the greatest "brand" anywhere on the planet, and we got things going at a very high level now and we're very excited about it. We're excited about being in this tournament and seeing what we can do in this tournament.
Q. Would you take a phone call?
STEVE ALFORD: That's really going to be my comment about that situation. I don't want that to be what this is about. This is about us. This is about what this group of guys are doing and that's what my focus is.
Q. A lot of this tournament the spotlight has been on Villanova, Kansas, Duke, Carolina, those programs. What are your thoughts about your program, Arizona and Oregon, how the Pac-12 will stack up and how much damage can they do in this tournament this year?
STEVE ALFORD: Dana and Sean and I have talked a little bit about that and it is important because you hear a lot, the Pac-12 -- it's been this long since we've been in the Final Four and those type of things. All I'll say is it's hard. Regardless of what those teams that you just talked about, it's hard! You start with 351 teams, it gets reduced to 68, then you gotta win all six games on neutral courts. It's a hard Championship to win and I think we all understand that. But Sean likes his team. Dana likes his team. I like my team. We've got chances and opportunities. When you look at that AP top-10, I told the team that the final poll came out I think we were 8th, Arizona a little higher, Oregon might have been 7th or 9th. But three of us in the top-10 and yet all the pundits if you listened to that night, somebody was picking that team to win it in that top-10.
We've had a great body of work to get to this point but now you gotta play the games and you've gotta play good basketball, Oregon, Arizona, ourselves or any of those schools that you mentioned. You're not going to advance in this tournament not playing good basketball.
You've gotta play your game. That's why I answered the question a minute ago. You gotta be yourself. This isn't the time to -- we're 33 games in this. All of us have had a lot of success in our league, but all of us have to play good basketball and we're all pulling for one another. Obviously that would be special to meet in Phoenix because you finally got a Final Four out west and we've been wanting that for a long time.
So wishing Arizona the best. Oregon the best. SC advanced last night, and obviously I want the best for us as we tip tomorrow night as well.
Q. Steve, the defense has been kind of a focus for you guys, pundits and that sort of thing. Bryce sounded confident and said you guys can get stops when you need it and you mentioned refining the defense, where did you feel your defense was in the Pac-12 tournament?
STEVE ALFORD: I thought we had some slippage offensively and defensively in the Pac-12 tournament. We weren't totally healthy. Not an excuse, but we seemed out of sync. We have been able to reboot things in the last four or five days. I've loved the guys' excitement. I think this is the tournament that they've been gearing and looking for. We just won nine or ten games in a row against Pac-12 opponents, which that's hard to do.
So we went through all February undefeated, first two weeks in March undefeated. That was a grind to be able to do that. You're playing teams multiple times. We just played at Arizona about a week earlier. We played SC at home two and a half weeks before that. So I think getting to new opponents in a different landscape will help our guys' mind-set, but I like where we're at defensively. We've been critiqued at that end probably as hard as anybody. They forgot about how efficient our offense is. There are other teams around the country that are incredible defensive teams, but I don't know how they are offensively.
But their offense doesn't get critiqued. That's Los Angeles. That's UCLA. It's where the bar is at UCLA. I love where we're at now and hopefully we will play to that tomorrow night.
Q. I appreciate you want wanting to talk about Indiana, but to circle back, are you concerned at all that any talk about that job given you mentioned your connections to it and the state might be a distraction for your team as you try to go through the tournament?
STEVE ALFORD: No, none.
Q. Not even in a market like Los Angeles?
STEVE ALFORD: I can't control what gets talked about, but no. We're very focused on what we've got to do.
Q. Bryce wants to continue his career after this in the NBA, but do you see him as a head coach someday?
STEVE ALFORD: He's never talked about that. Kory the oldest has always wanted to get into coaching, but he's never said anything about coaching a game. I don't know if that's when his line of work is going to be when he's done playing or not. But hopefully he has a long career ahead of him. I think he's talented enough. I don't know if it will be coaching. We will have to wait and see. Kory, that's the path he wants, but Bryce may want a different path.
Coach Steve Alford, Bryce Alford and Lonzo Ball in Pre-Game Interview
THE MODERATOR: From UCLA, we have student-athletes Bryce Alford and Lonzo Ball. Gentlemen, welcome. Can you characterize, Lonzo, the season thus far for UCLA and the high points? How you felt the season ended up?