Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Final 4, Bay-bee!!! #11 UCLA beats #1 Michigan in the Elite 8 51-49

 Johnny Juzang led the Bruin charge with 28 points for the night.


2-min highlight

9-min highlight

Johnny Juzang highlights



Juwan Howard


Bruins Stifle Michigan to Advance to Final Four | INDIANAPOLIS – Behind 28 points from Johnny Juzang, the 11th-seeded Bruins defeated No. 1-seed Michigan, 51-49, on Tuesday to win the NCAA East Regional Final and advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2008.
UCLA (22-9) will face No. 1-seed Gonzaga, the winner of the West Region, in the National Semifinals on Saturday, April 3 at 5:34 p.m. PT/8:34 p.m. ET at Lucas Oil Stadium. The game will be televised on CBS.
The Bruins join VCU (2011) as the only teams to advance to the Final Four after starting in the First Four, and become the fifth No. 11 seed to make the Final Four. UCLA held Michigan to a season-low total in points and nearly 28 points under its season average, forcing 14 turnovers and holding the Wolverines to a 39.2 field goal percentage.
Juzang was 11-for-19 from the field, with Tyger Campbell adding 11 points. Jules Bernard posted nine rebounds and four points, Jaime Jaquez Jr. tallied six rebounds, four points and four assists and Kenneth Nwuba played some great defense, grabbing five boards.

Juzang was named the Most Outstanding Player of the East Region, and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Campbell and Jaquez Jr.
After a slugging shooting start for the Bruins, Juzang jump-started the UCLA offense. Down 11-4 midway through the first half, Juzang scored each of the Bruins' next 12 points, with a pair of Jaquez Jr. free throws making it 18-17, giving them their first advantage since they led 4-2 early on.
A Campbell three with a minute remaining gave UCLA a half-best lead of four at 27-23, which would also be the halftime score, as the Bruins ended the first on a 23-12 run. UCLA's stifling defense held Michigan to just 10 field goals, forcing nine turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
Halftime didn't stop the Bruin run, as they scored seven of the first nine points after intermission to get the lead to a game-high nine at 34-25. Michigan (23-5) would make its run, scoring eight points in a row to cut its deficit to one with 12:35 left. The Wolverines eventually re-took the lead at 43-42 at the 7:06 mark.
But the Bruins' defense would rise to the occasion, holding Michigan without a field goal for the final 5:22. Trailing 47-46 with 4:30 left, a Bernard jumper gave UCLA the lead for good. Juzang scored the Bruins' final basket with just over a minute remaining, as a couple of attempts for the Wolverines in the final few seconds rang off the iron to send UCLA to the Final Four.

UCLA 51, Michigan 49
March 30, 2021
Mick Cronin, The Michael Price Family UCLA Men’s Head Basketball Coach
opening remarks
First of all, I'd like to congratulate Coach Howard and Michigan on an unbelievable season. Obviously, they have got great kids, great coaching staff, tremendous program. So, all the best to them and again congrats on their season. As far as us guys, as a Big Ten battle royal game, nobody could find an offensive rhythm and that was just a credit to the defenses. You know, just an unbelievably physical game. It was hard to get bodies off of bodies.

Obviously for us, you know, we rode Johnny as hard as we could with his scoring. Jules Bernard, not 100 percent tonight. You saw him limp -- if anybody noticed him limping in the last game towards the end of the game. Tyger Campbell gave us some offense. I thought their size bothered Jaime a little bit. But he's had an unreal tournament. Didn't get -- I didn't get some of our -- Dave and Jake enough time probably, but I thought the game was such a half-court game, our guys weren't tired. It was just a physical game. I was trying to go with our best defensive lineup.

But all the credit goes to the players. They have been unbelievable to hold Michigan to 49. That's two teams we've held under 50 in this tournament. We held Alabama to 65 in regulation and BYU to 60. Just awesome, awesome effort by our kids and all credit goes to them.”

on how much the game came down to physical and mental toughness  
“I think that's the whole key. Just the resiliency of these guys, somebody told -- it's not on here whenever -- you guys may have it -- whenever Michigan's last field goal was. Somebody told me they didn't get a field goal in the last five minutes.
What you try to preach when you're building a program, and you guys have heard me say this, you know, first of all, April 9th, 2019, I told you, I spell fun w-i-n. And our scoring has been elite, 11 or 12 offense, but tonight it was our defense. You have to find a way to win and these guys are having most fun they have ever had in their life back in that locker room because they won.
I told them I was going to teach them how to win. And you have to be able to win different ways, when things are not going well on the offense, because of the other team, not because of us it, was Michigan. They are 1-seed for a reason, and the Big Ten had, what, ten teams in the tournament and they dominated the conference for the most part.
To find a way to beat them with defense the way we did tonight, obviously extremely proud of our team. It was just resilience. Stats are for losers, you either win or you lose. I think that stat sheet can get crumbled up tonight. Johnny's points were huge, and Tyger had some big baskets. Really happy for him.”
on impact of briefly losing Johnny Juzang to injury and his subsequent return to the court
“Surely it didn't help. You know, there's not much that hasn't happened to us this year as far as losing guys and injuries. You know, he's on two iffy ankles. There was no doubt in my mind he would come back, but obviously while he was out -- look, I don't know what we got up, so, the largest lead isn't on here, either -- there it is, nine. You know what I think maybe we were up nine. Look, they weren't going anywhere. We weren't going to win by double figures tonight. Hunter Dickinson got them some big buckets that got them back in the game. We didn't do a good job a few times and let him get to his left hand. Again, we made a few probably wild ones. He made a wild one off the gas, that was going to happen.
Our defense forced 14 turnovers. That's huge, in a game -- in a low-possession game, to create 14 turnovers, is really why we won, because if say we force eight; they get six more shots off; they probably beat us. Unbelievable effort by our kids defensively.”
on toughness of the team and Kenneth Nwuba’s performance
“Yeah, look, Mac Etienne is going to be a great player. We brought him in to put Wade on him to get him stronger. But the problem is we had to play him. He's done well in practice, but all the running and practice time since Jalen Hill has been gone, he can't gain weight because he's practicing so hard. A game like, this Kenny is obviously a bigger, stronger guy in his third year of college. Look, Kenny has never played that many minutes, I don't think. I think 20 is probably the most in his career. So, he dug deep for us, five big rebounds, great physicality, set some great screens.
Again, stats can be overrated. Here is a guy that didn't score but you brought his name up for a reason. He had a big impact on the game physically. Other games you go small, we play Jaylen Clark at the five and he's 6-4, but you didn't do that against Michigan. We had to go big today. Kenny was huge.
I think your original -- our toughness, it's been great all year. You just can't win them all. We caught some bad breaks. Some of those, you've got to take your hat off to the other team. Some of it we had a few missed free throws. It was our fault. We won it on the defensive end. We didn't foul. We didn't give up a layup. We forced shots over us down the stretch and that was the whole key. We forced shots over us.”
on if he could imagine being in the Final Four in his second year as Head Coach
“No, look, that's why I laughed. You know, look, we lost, when we lost Daeshin Nix to the G League, and then you lose Chris Smith and Jalen Hill, if I had told you those three -- the guys that follow us every day, if I had told you guys last May when we were all in lockdown, you guys would have said, "You're not making the NCAA tournament." Nobody would have said you're going to the Final Four, let's be honest. So no, Bill.
Now, quietly, when we had those three guys, quietly I told my dad, I've got a chance to have my best team ever, after Johnny committed to us. When Johnny signed and got cleared to play this year, and then you had Tyger and Chris Smith and Johnny and all these guys and Jalen Hill is on the team, you've got experience and you've got athleticism.”
on how much he has seen Juzang grow since Chris Smith’s injury
“Really, he was -- he was awesome in October. Then, you know, he had a stress reaction in his foot and we had to shut him down. But even though when he was -- he was playing well in practice. I knew he was going to need game minutes because, you know, it's just different. So, my plan was that -- I knew for us to get here, I was going to have to let him play through -- play through things and teach him shot selection. What I tried to teach him is that -- what he did tonight. He's got 11 baskets but only two threes. So, he's more of a scorer than a shooter, and I think that's what he got labeled at Kentucky and I wanted him to get rid of that mindset. We really worked hard on his mid-range and him going to the basket. You know, but he's grown immensely and you know, obviously -- I knew for us -- back to Bill, I knew for us to evolve, he was the guy that was going to have to evolve for us.”
on manufacturing the game possession-by-possession
“Hey, again, look, I like to give the kids credit. The play you alluded to, out of a time-out, the guys ran perfectly. Something I kept in my pocket to get a bucket late. When Johnny is hot, I use him as a screener. I thought if he set a guy -- I told him, you've got to set the screen, I think Cody will be wide open, your man won't help because the way he's shooting the ball, and Jaime threw a great pass and Cody got it up.
You can draw stuff up, but the kids have got to execute. Obviously, there's – there are four teams still left and we understand what's ahead of us. But to get this far, you know, we can't just rip-and-roar, because we've talked enough about the guys that are not here, and Cody's foul trouble is an issue for us, and it makes it challenging.
Again, you have to -- each game management, that's what you're paid for. I have a great coaching staff that I hired for a reason. So, they helped me out a lot. It's not a one-man band.”
on what it means to make it to the Final Four with UCLA
“Well, look, obviously you know, I knew what I was -- I knew the expectations, right. I mean, it's pretty clear at UCLA. I think -- I thank Dan Guerrero for believing in me. I tried to convince him that and the guys that were around him with this, that I understood it and I wanted it. You know, Coach Pitino is like an older brother to me and he used to say, "I'd rather live one day as a lion than a thousand as a lamb." It's like I told my father, "If I don't take this job, I'll feel like a lamb."
I felt like I accomplished a lot at Cincinnati and I felt good about the fact that I gave everything I could to that position every day from my heart, and it was just time. It was time for a change and a challenge for me professionally, as well as I thought that it would be great for my daughter, as well.
But yeah, sure, we're not done. Tomorrow is never promised. This is great, but we've got work to do. And, you know, hopefully I'll be around to keep trying to chase the tradition and the expectations at UCLA. But it takes players. I don't like talking about it because players win games, and I really appreciate these guys for allowing me to coach them.”
sophomore guard Johnny Juzang  
on if there was anything different in his mentality ahead of tonight’s game  
“Not really, actually. Just approached it like another game. We've been super locked-in to this tournament. You don't want to -- as a player, you don't like add pressure to yourself. I know the whole team was just worried about we're going to leave it out there on the floor and we're going to give it everything we've got. I mean, the shot just happened to go in and teammates are finding me. I wouldn't say anything different.”
on the moments and celebrations after winning
“Unreal, man. Unreal. I love every single one of these guys. It's incredible, man. Surreal. Surreal. Something, you know, growing up, you just dream about. And to do it with such an amazing group of guys, such incredible staff, such incredible coaches, makes it just so wonderful. It's beautiful. It's beautiful sharing this moment with, you know, your brothers and just great, great people. Incredible.”
on transferring to UCLA and how he feels about everything to this point
“First, the transition, I was welcomed with warm, open arms, man. So, I was just welcomed to this team from day one. So, you know, it's been amazing. And then, you know, just working with these guys and learning and growing all together, and just being pushed, obviously we've had our ups and downs during the season, but it's such a beautiful thing, you know, the way that we have come together for this postseason. And just to -- it's just a feeling of everybody's just so unified. It's like one, just, unit, and we're just all sharing in each other and rooting for each other. I mean, I think that's why we're at this point and just playing for each other. Just a lot of love, man.
We're not done yet. But you know, so far, it's been beautiful, the ups and downs, and that makes moments like this even more special. Even more special.”
on whether Mick Cronin being labeled a defensive-minded coach influenced his decision to transfer to UCLA
“Not all, man. First, there's just something inexplainable. I just felt something about Coach, just such a genuine guy, and it was first -- something it was just intuition and I just felt it. I felt that he was just genuine, so that was the first thing. His reputation, I had no second thoughts. It is also what drew -- I knew that he was hard. I knew that he was intense. I knew that he was defensive-minded, and those are things that drew me, I wanted that. I wanted to be pushed.
On top of the first thing I said, it drew me to him. I knew that he would push me and hold me accountable and challenge me, and I knew he -- and I wanted to play for a program where obviously he does that for everybody. So, you know, I want to be part of a winning program with, you know, winning standards, and, you know, a level of accountability to win games. So, I actually would just say it's the opposite, man, it really drew me to play for Coach. Obviously, it's been incredible.”
on team’s defense against Franz Wagner
“Well, you know, the coaches do such a great job with our scouting reports and game preparation. All we've got to do is go out there and execute. But the plan, we knew he was a strong right-hand driver. We had some of their plays and actions kind of scouted out. You know, guys went out and executed great. Tried to take away those things and slow him down. But you know, they are a great team. You know, so credit to them. They got some really good players, and so yeah, but our coaches did a great job with the scouting. We just had to go execute.”
on support he and the team have received
Yeah, man, I don't want to leave anybody out. Obviously, first and foremost, my family. My girlfriend. My family's been out here obviously my whole life but they have been out here supporting me and that's been so wonderful. My girlfriend is so supportive and she pushes me, and all my friends. They all know who they are, man. And then obviously, you mentioned Harvard-Westlake, Coach Rebibo, and my trainer, Dash. I don't want to leave everybody out but everybody knows who they are, man. I'm so grateful to have the people I do in my life and so obviously I'd be nothing without them. I'm just super lucky to have so much support in my life, and everybody knows who they are. So, you know who you are. I'm sorry, you know, if I didn't hit on it but I'm just kind of in the moment right now. Blessed to have so much great support.
on if he had to talk anyone into letting him back on the court after his injury
“No, I didn't have to talk to anybody. I just stepped off and got some treatment and got some heavier tape. I knew I was going to be ready. I just needed a second to, you know, get it taken care of. But you know, the adrenaline and -- I'll feel it tonight -- but the adrenaline, I wasn't really too worried about it. I felt it, but you I knew I would be back -- I didn't have to talk to anybody. So, once I was ready; my coaches believe in me and I'm so lucky for that. So, I was able to get right back in there and contribute.”
on importance of getting back out there to help the team down the stretch
“For sure, man, it's March Madness. I was trying to get out there as quick as I can to help my brothers. So you know, I was over there, you know, I kind of just looked back at the floor checking on what's going on, and our trainer did such a great job. You know, he took care of me and he got me right out there really quick. But no, I definitely was, you know, trying to get out there as quick as I could. You know, so we got some lion-hearted guys on this team. We got some warriors, man. It kind of -- it kind of, you know, checks everybody because the guy to your right is putting his heart on the floor and the guy to your left is putting his heart on the floor. I know I've got an injury or whatever, but I'm getting right back out there because I'm trying to leave my heart on the floor. Just kind of that spirit with the team. You know, everybody's trying to do it, so I did feel, obviously, trying to get out there and fight with my brothers.”

The Box

Team Stats post-Michigan

Sunday, March 28, 2021

UCLA hopes defense will carry Bruins past Alabama and into the Elite Eight



L.A. Times

MARCH 27, 2021 2:43 PM PT

Article Link


There’s a familiar feel to it all, the way every shot is contested, every driving lane cut off, every open player no longer open by the time a pass arrives.

UCLA is making its opponents feel like they’re stuck in mud again, just like it did at the end of last season. Gritting their way to one win after another, those Bruins were the talk of college basketball in March 2020 before COVID-19 halted the season and silenced chatter about an NCAA tournament run.

A year later, they’re back to creating a buzz thanks in large part to a halftime rant. With his team trailing Michigan State by 11 points in a First Four game, handing out open shots like cheap fan freebies, Mick Cronin delivered a high-volume message inside the Mackey Arena locker room.

“If you guys really want it,” Cronin told his players, “you’re going to have to defend.”

The Bruins did just that, gumming things up for the Spartans in the second half and overtime of a wild comeback victory. They sustained that approach while stifling Brigham Young two days later in the first round and held Abilene Christian scoreless for more than nine minutes in a second-round rout.

Along the way, they developed a postseason mantra.

“Our defense,” junior guard Jules Bernard said, “is the reason why we’re going to survive in the tournament.”

Short of making nearly every shot it takes, 11th-seeded UCLA will have to make its defense the basis for any upset of second-seeded Alabama on Sunday at Hinkle Fieldhouse in an East Region semifinal. It has taken a quantum leap in only three games, the Bruins’ adjusted defensive efficiency going from No. 86 nationally to No. 63 in the metrics of basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy.

It will have to get even better against the Crimson Tide (26-6) for the Bruins (20-9) to reach their first regional final since 2008, when they advanced to the last of three consecutive Final Fours and appeared on the verge of another blue-and-gold dynasty.

Alabama’s high-flying, shot-hoisting offense creates more headaches than a jackhammer. The Crimson Tide have taken more three-pointers (961) and made more shots from beyond the arc (341) than anyone else in the nation this season as a result of what Cronin described as the college basketball equivalent of a spread offense.

“Just think about football,” Cronin said. “Great offenses make you defend the whole field.”

To help with spacing, Alabama coach Nate Oats taped a four-point line three feet beyond the three-point line onto the practice court so that his players could learn to catch the ball behind the former and step into shooting it behind the latter.

Making Alabama’s approach all the more dangerous is that it generates many of its three-pointers off offensive rebounds, a rarity for teams that live beyond the arc. The Crimson Tide snagged 15 offensive rebounds in the second round against Maryland, leading to 23 second-chance points during a runaway 96-77 victory.

“Where they really kill you is when they do miss, they get it and turn and throw it back out and make it,” Cronin said. “That’s how they can get on their runs. They’ve had some games where they’ve had some massive runs on people.”

Alabama also likes to play in a hurry, its average possession length of 14.2 seconds ranking No. 3 nationally and making this matchup seem like something out of “Aesop’s Fables” given that UCLA’s tortoise-like average possession length of 18.8 seconds ranks No. 309 nationally.

As if the Bruins didn’t have enough worries, Alabama also touts one of the nation’s best defenses and benches, with super subs Jahvon Quinerly and Alex Reese helping the Crimson Tide’s second unit outscore its counterparts, 62-17, in two NCAA tournament games.

“Very rarely,” Cronin said, “do you go to the bench and get better as a team.”

So, to review, UCLA will need to run the Crimson Tide off the three-point line, clog driving lanes, watch kick-outs, rip away rebounds, dictate tempo and avoid turnovers that could negate their efforts in every other endeavor.

At least the Bruins possess a defense that’s been on the rise even without Chris Smith (knee) and Jalen Hill (personal issues), the team’s two most bouncy defenders. Beyond unleashing more active hands and ramping up its ball pressure, the defense has also reflected its fiery coach.

“Just being more intense,” Bernard said.

After six months of swabs being stuck up noses, of being confined to single rooms, of spacing out inside its own locker room, it’s the Bruins who need to make things uncomfortable to sustain their season.

Kris Johnson talks to Coach Ben Howland about Alabama and UCLA. Coach Howland's Mississippi State team was 0-3 vs Bama in the SEC this year

 from Kris Johnson Live on YouTube

Alabama Crimson Tide Team Stats 

UCLA Bruins Team Stats

Friday, March 26, 2021

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Coach Mick Cronin talks Alabama with Jim Rome

 Thanks, The Jim Rome Show! 

Jaylen Clark has been postin videos of his March Madness experience!!!

 Thanks for sharin, Jaylen! 

Check out more videos from Jaylen on his UCLA experience on his YouTube channel The Jaylen Clark Show

UCLA beats Abilene Christian in the 2nd Round of the NCAA tournament 67-47. SWEET 16, BAY-BEEEEEE!!!


UCLA and Christian Abilene Q&A's


Men's Basketball Advances to the Sweet 16– For the first time since 2017, the No. 11-seed UCLA men's basketball team booked a spot in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, posting a 67-47 victory over No. 14-seed Abilene Christian on Monday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

With the win, the Bruins (20-9) have advanced to face No. 2-seed Alabama (26-6) on Sunday, March 28.

UCLA registered its third win of this season's NCAA Tournament in five days. The Bruins had picked up wins over Michigan State (86-60 in OT) last Thursday night in the First Four and versus BYU (73-62) on Saturday evening.

"Our guys were awesome today," said Mick Cronin, The Michael Price UCLA Men's Head Basketball Coach. "They're a team that's so hard to play against defensively. For us only to have eight turnovers was just a tremendous job by our guys and a very short prep. Obviously our third game, flying from L.A., and then having to play at Purdue and up and back twice. The guys have been through a lot in the last couple weeks on our team, but it's brought them together. They've showed a lot of character. They're really easy to coach right now. They're fun to coach, and I give our players absolutely all the credit in the world. They made today's game look a lot easier than it was. It was not easy in person."

Sophomore guard Johnny Juzang, who averaged 25.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in the team's first two wins of the tournament, continued his hot play on Monday. He scored a game-high 17 points on 7 of 15 shooting from the field, including 3 of 7 from behind the 3-point arc.

Junior forward Cody Riley (12 points, 12 rebounds) and sophomore guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (10 points) were the two other Bruins to score in double figures.

"This is March Madness, so we just locked in and we saw that they beat Texas, so we had a lot of respect for them from the jump and knew what they were capable of defensively with the quick guards that they have and their activity on defense," told reporters Riley after the game. "So we were locked in and tried our best not to turn the ball over and take care of it and share the ball and make good team plays."

The Bruins held Abilene Christian (24-5) to 29.8 percent shooting from the field (17 of 57). The Wildcats made four of 19 shots from 3-point range (21.1 percent). Only one player from Abilene Christian scored in double figures, as senior Mahki Morris tallied a team-high 14 points.

UCLA notched two substantial scoring runs against Abilene Christian, dominating the Wildcats in both the first and second half. After trailing 12-8 to start the game, the Bruins went on an 18-0 run to take a 26-12 lead.

Abilene Christian reduced UCLA's advantage to 10 points at halftime (31-21) before the Bruins opened the second half on a 14-1 run to take a 45-22 lead. The Bruins never looked back, enjoying a sizable advantage for the remainder of the game.
With the win on Monday, UCLA secured its fourth trip to the tournament's "Sweet 16" in eight seasons (the Bruins advanced in 2014, 2015 and 2017).

POSTSEASON NOTES: UCLA has recorded its 15th trip to the "Sweet 16" (regional semifinals) since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 … previous Sweet 16 trips (since 1985) have occurred in 1990, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2014, 2015 and 2017 … through those previous 14 appearances, the Bruins have posted a 6-8 record with four trips to the Final Four (1995, 2006, 2007 and 2008) … in the four most recent trips to the Final Four, UCLA has compiled a 3-3 record (including the 1995 NCAA title). Overall, UCLA has advanced to 50 NCAA Tournaments and 18 NCAA Final Fours and won a nation-leading 11 NCAA Championships.

UCLA 67, Abilene Christian 47
Indianapolis, Ind. (Bankers Life Fieldhouse)
March 22, 2021
Mick Cronin, The Michael Price Family UCLA Men’s Head Basketball Coach
opening remarks
“First of all, I'd like to congratulate Coach Golding and Abilene Christian on a great season. Obviously they had our attention. They've got some kids that play unbelievably hard. I thought the key to today's game was the fact that we did not take them lightly. We had tremendous respect for them, their coaching, their opponent, their players I should have said, as our opponent. Again, congrats to them.
“Our guys were awesome today. They're a team that's so hard to play against defensively. For us only to have eight turnovers was just a tremendous job by our guys and a very short prep. Obviously our third game, flying from LA and then having to play at Purdue and up and back twice. The guys have been through a lot in the last couple weeks on our team, but it's brought them together. They've showed a lot of character. They're really easy to coach right now. They're fun to coach, and I give our players absolutely all the credit in the world. They made today's game look a lot easier than it was. It was not easy in person. This is a very, very good Abilene Christian team that beat Texas, took Texas Tech to the wire, gave Arkansas all they wanted. They dominated their conference tournament. So very, very happy with today's win”
on why the defensive part of UCLA’s game really stood out
“Well, I've told the guys this since I became their coach. We're going to have to get a lot tougher. We're going to have to learn how to do hard, uncomfortable things, physical things. We're going to have to believe in the uncomfortable things that go into winning. And when we do that, we'll start winning, because we have enough talent on the roster. We've lost a lot of talent as the season has gone on, but we've continued to try to get better at the things that go into winning, whether it's executing and taking care of the ball on offense, being physical and rebounding, and being the better defensive team. So my message to them – because I was concerned that we would turn it over because they're so good at what they do, that we were just going to have to win a super ugly game. So my message was the better defensive team will win this game, and just continue to focus and worry about defense. We've embraced that since the halftime of the Michigan State game. We've been an elite defensive team for our last five halves of basketball. And on the board was "Defense was why we're alive and defense is why we'll survive in this tournament."
on the three first-half turnovers being unforced and how UCLA withstood the defensive pressure
“I would say, again, I give my players all the credit because yesterday, so Sunday, we watched – again, our wins Thursday and Saturday night, we got back at 3:00 a.m. after we beat Michigan State. We got back at 1:00 a.m. after we beat BYU. To try to calm those guys down and get them to bed, get them treated led us to Sunday, where all we could do was treat Jaime and Tyger and let those guys rest and watch film. First time in my life I put guys in a chair and had a walk-through with no defense. They watched the coaches go through what we were going to go through defensively while they sat and rested on the baseline. Our preparation was this morning in our shootaround. That's all we really had to deal with, the fact that we weren't going to be able to run our normal offense because they just don't let you do it. The kids did a great job of being able to deal with that really with no practice preparation.”
on the players believing in the gameplan and believing in what the coaches were telling them
“Well, I think they've been all year, to be honest with you. Sometimes the other team just wins. We dropped some games late in the season. It wasn't because they weren't trying [or] they weren't buying in. We were playing really good teams, as I've been trying to tell everybody all year, with the Pac-12 continuing to be undefeated. I think we are at three teams in the Sweet 16. We've got two more to play still, I think. Part of that, it isn't that they just did. I think what they have learned is one or two mistakes can beat you. We've eliminated some and-ones. We've just gotten better. We're more trained. It takes time. We're still a young team with no seniors. And again, you lose Chris, you reinvent yourself. Then you lose Jalen, you've got to reinvent yourself. We've made it look seamless with Johnny, but it's his first year on our team and our program. Tthese guys have been through a lot, and I would wrap that up as I think they have come together has been really the key. They're playing for each other. And they're holding each other accountable because they want to win.”
on who assisted (on the coaching staff) with the Abilene Christian scout and how that gameplan was formulated on such short notice
“Yeah, well, Rod, Darren and Mike rotate everything. It was Darren today. I'm glad you brought that up because I told you guys this when I got the job, when I announced the staff, that what I did was went out and hired three guys that I thought should already be head coaches. I have a huge advantage in that I have three guys that are veteran – Coach Palmer has got state championships in multiple years in high school, [and then] multiple years of college experience. Darren Savino should have been a head coach a couple years ago. Unfortunately it didn't happen, when I left Cincinnati. And he'll get his day. And Mike Lewis is the young pup on our staff, even though he's the baldest guy. They do a great job for me. Today was Darren, but the way we do things, we all recruit. We don't have a "my guy, my scout." We try to do everything as a team, as a staff, and it's all about the four letters on the front.”
on how he has helped mold this team in just two seasons at UCLA and what it has said about this group of student-athletes
“Part of the reason I took the job is I knew that we had some talent on the roster. 15 years ago when I took the Cincinnati job, Connor Barwin, my buddy who played in the NFL many years is now smartly retired with his health, came in my office, he said, hey, Coach, I'll help you out, I'll play another year of basketball, but your job is to recruit. I can only help you for a year. So players matter. That being said, I will say this: For the West Coast teams, we have a huge disadvantage. Six months without seeing your team. When teams in the south and back east and teams that had summer workouts, and we did not see our players for six months. How do you develop a guy's body? In LA, as you guys know, everything was closed. You can't get in the weight room. And then trying to continue the – we were on such a run at the end of the year last year, and trying to reinforce all the things we taught, my biggest fear was six months, we're going to be starting over.
“It hasn't been easy, so I think everybody in the Pac-12 has really dealt with that, and what I would say is that's what hurt the Pac-12 early in the year, all of us. And you see that everybody has gotten so much better as the year went on because none of us had any type of summer.”
on this team appearing to be a very likeable squad and what types of connections he has built with these young men
“Well, I would say this: If you see a guy playing for me, he's a good guy. Like he's just not, it's not going to last. There are certain things that I'm just not cut out to do. A guy may not, he may not be the tough guy that people say needs to play for me because I love Johnny because he can get some baskets, right. My job is to help him with the defense and the strength and the toughness. But if you're on our team, you're going to be a good guy. We've got great guys on the team, and I learned that even thinking right now about Prince Ali and Alex Olesinski, great guys. They could have easily left when I got the job, went and played their fifth year somewhere else. We've got really, really good guys on our team, and sometimes like I've got to make myself get on some of them because they're such good guys. The whole thing is, the key is, it's easy to be a good guy, but playing for each other is the reason you'll advance – survive and advance in this tournament, because it's so, so hard because nobody is going down easily. You have to play for each other. And then you've got to have some guys step up and play well, which obviously Johnny struggled in the first half, he got it in the bucket the second half, and Jake Kyman made some great shots. Coaching can be overrated as well, now.”
on if this is where he had expected the program to be, near the end of his second season at UCLA
“Well, I would have liked to have the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament my first year, so you know, I really, I leave that to other people. I try to just do the day-to-day. The macro thing of did they hire the right coach or where is he going, what's he doing? I leave that to you guys. I just try to – I'm going to try to enjoy every day I get to be the coach at UCLA, enjoy the heck out of this as much as you can. Hopefully we can get out of the hotel for a little bit tomorrow. But our progress, to give you an answer, we've definitely improved. You've got to continue to recruit, and there's so many – when you have my job, I kid around, like Bob Myers was part of the committee that hired me. I'm Bob Myers and Steve Kerr. I've got to coach the team but then I have my other hat that I have to wear that's personnel, where are we at, where are we going to be next year. I'm happy with our recruiting, our player development, and hopefully we've got some guys that are very committed to our program that think they're in the right place because they're at an elite school on the best campus in America, and I know I'm happy to be there.”
on what the postgame celebration looked like in UCLA’s locker room
“No ice baths. First of all, we're all tired, to be honest with you. Some guys are sitting in the chair, you can tell they're tired. I tried to give Jaime a rest in the first half. He's begging me to go back in. I'm like, ‘Jaime, you've played 95 minutes, let me give you five minutes on the bench.’ I think they're tired. But they know my message. My message has been since we beat Michigan State, ‘Guys, I didn't come to Westwood to win a game or two,’ and that's always going to be my message. Remember who you play for, because I'm trying to breed confidence in them, especially the way we ended the season.
“Yeah, they can have all the fun they want. They're going to go – Chris Smith will put the name up and all that, but my message, I said this my whole career really, you play in a tournament, there's only one winner. You'd better not say ‘We're happy,’ because we won a few games and we survived this weekend. Yeah, I want to enjoy it. It's great. But that's not our purpose. I could care less about my resume. I came to Westwood for a reason, and we've got games to win.”
on having lost four games in a row before a three-game win streak in Indianapolis and what this has said about the state of the Pac-12 Conference
“Yes, I was. I thought the key for me was making sure we learned Colorado is great, we almost beat them on the road. Oregon as you saw today, we were up 10 in the second half. We just missed free throws that cost us the last two games. But against really good teams. I was not in panic mode at all until the bracket came out, and now you've got to play against Tom Izzo and Michigan State at Purdue. We're flying in from L.A. I thought if we could get by the first one, we would have a chance to stay alive.
“The second part of your question, no, not surprised at all. As you know, you know me, I coached in the Big East in the heyday – 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament. I know good teams. And it's not just because I'm a homer. Oregon State really, really does not surprise me. They really figured it out late in the year. We should have beaten them, but they played really well. They won three in a row on the road late in the year late in our conference. Their only loss in the last eight is Oregon. You know how good they are. So all those teams are really solid, well-coached teams. The Pac-12, when I got the job, people would say, ‘Oh, you go out there, your teams will play hard, you'll win.’ I've got news for you, teams in the Pac-12 play hard. We have excellent coaching in the Pac-12, and I mean that. It's way more competitive physically than the rest of the country knows, because most people are sleeping when we play, and the coaching is really, really good.”
on how UCLA’s leadership role was filled, or evolved, once Chris Smith sustained a season-ending injury
“Well, on the court, because we don't have a senior, it's really been a committee thing. I think guys are still to this day, to answer your question, growing into that role, because we don't have that one guy that's been that dominant guy at UCLA. He was the only guy on our team that ever played in a tournament game. We don't really have that guy, but I think now they're all becoming that. So more important was adjusting to playing without him, because it affected our defense, and as a coach, as the time has gone on we've had to make some adjustments because when we lost Chris and we lost Jalen Hill, we're not nearly as long defensively as we used to be. There was a lot of adjustments to be made, but the kids collectively have really kind of stepped up. There's not been one guy on the leadership front.”
on how much he welcomes a little bit of rest for his players after three games in five days
“Extremely. For all of us. Extremely. And I've also petitioned my buddy Dan Gavitt to let me out of the hotel. I need a chair outside just to sit outside for one hour when we get back to the hotel. But no, we'll get out of the hotel tomorrow. I know they've got some things planned for the teams that are still alive and get our rooms cleaned. It's really been like a frat house on our floor. We're all on the same floor. There's nomads, there's nobody at the desk. It's been a heck of an experience, it really has.”
junior forward Cody Riley
on the team being locked in both offensively and defensively
"You know, the guys are just excited. This is March Madness, so we just locked in and we saw that they beat Texas, so we had a lot of respect for them from the jump and knew what they were capable of defensively with the quick guards that they have and their activity on defense. So we were locked in and tried our best not to turn the ball over and take care of it and share the ball and make good team plays."
on Coach Cronin’s intensity during a timeout in the second half after an Abilene Christian run
"He was just telling us, it's not over. This is what they do. They turn teams over, so if we start turning the ball over and let them get going, they could make it a close game. We had to put them away while we were up, and that's what we did."
on buying into Mick Cronin's philosophy of buying into the little things
"Last year I noticed that everybody was on the same page as far as defense first, like don't worry about missing shots or how many shots you get up. The offensive side is going to come naturally to us. It's what we work on all the time. We really had to step our game up defensively, and once we did that as a unit and we were all playing together, we're a really good team when we do that."
on limiting Abilene Christian's ability to force turnovers
"We knew that they were going to be scrambling and playing chaotic and trying to get us to speed up. Going into the game we just knew that we couldn't let them do that. We couldn't let them speed us up and let the game get going up and down and let their defense create offense for them. We knew that was their best way of scoring points on offense. With that mindset, we went into it and we capitalized and we won the game."
on the resiliency of the team after suffering four losses heading into the tournament
"Yeah, those first games that we lost, they were close games. They were minor hiccups that caused us to lose the game and lack of focus for 40 minutes. Coming in here, we knew that we were capable of winning games. We were right there, towards the end of the season, in most of the games that we lost. So we still had our confidence, and we knew that things were going to start turning our way once we got out here for March Madness, and just like I said before, just locking in on defense. That's what's got us to where we are right now. That's what got us past Michigan State in the first four and BYU, also. That's been our main focus right here, and we're going to keep doing it."
on the contributions of freshman Jaylen Clark
"Yeah, it's great having J-Clark and seeing him out there and when he's out there, we're looking for him to bring the defensive intensity to pick us up. He's young but he's very adamant on defense and aggressive. That's that we need. That's what we are looking for. It's great to see him out there moving. He's versatile, he's strong down low and he can also move on the outside perimeter guarding guards, moving his feet well. It's great to see him out there working, and I'm looking forward to seeing the improvement in him."

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