Moderator: Okay, from UCLA, we have Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday. The Bruin will meet Cincinnati tomorrow evening, approximately 6:40 pm Pacific Time, 9:40 on the East Coast. Gentlemen, welcome. Thank you. Thomas, what do you know about Cincinnati?
TW: We know that they're a physical and tough team and I think it will be a really good test for us. They're extremely well-coached. They run a lot of good sets and we've got to make sure we bring our "A" game tomorrow and ready for a fight.
Moderator: Questions for our student-athletes...
Q.: Thomas, I have a few questions for you, but, one, yesterday I heard a few fans behind me calling you Robot as you were playing. Are you okay with that nickname? Do you think you identify with that at all?
TW: That's funny. I've heard some things about that, but I just try to do what I do out there on the court. Nicknames don't really matter much. It’s just about playing my game and having fun out there and that’s what I try to do.
Q.: Do you think that fits your game at all, a robotic mid-range jumper, automatic system?
TW: I think I'm pretty consistent with it, so I would like to call myself that if I could knock down shots the way I do, but I guess it's pretty cool to have a nickname like that.
Q.: Do you think you've had to change your game at all this year? I know you guys run a lot, typically, 7-footers don't thrive in those systems.
TW: I think a little bit, just playing with some of the guards we have like Lonzo, Aaron, here, Bryce and Isaac, they love to push the ball a lot. So, yeah, a lot of times, it's hard for me to keep the pace with them up and down court. But, they’re a lot of fun to play with. They find me in my spots. It's one of those things where being in good shape and being willing to push that extra mile to get up and down is a big thing for me and one I definitely try to focus on.
Q.: Aaron, how often do you talk to your brothers? Have they been talking about you to this NCAA experience? I know Jrue only spent one year at UCLA himself.
AH: We talk pretty often, every other week, pretty much and they just tell me to stay focused on the goal ahead and just to have fun and play my game because you don't get many moments like this.
Q.: Thomas, I watched you yesterday in practice or shootaround, whatever it was, shooting those mid-range jumpers. Do you ever count how many in a row you make?
TW: Not usually, no. I just focus on knocking them down, but there are some drills we do where we keep track and I try to continually set personal bests doing stuff like that.
Q.: What's your personal best?
TW: We did a shooting drill. I'm not sure how much time it was. We just take shots at the same spot, a rebounder keeps throwing it at you. I made 206 shots. I’m not sure how much time it was exactly. It was a pretty good amount of time.
Q.: From both sides?
TW: It was multiple spots. It was a lot of spots.
Q.: That's 206 in a row?
TW: Not in a row. Yeah, that would be crazy. No. It was not in a row. Definitely not.
Moderator: But, most made?
Q.: In a certain amount of time. Got you.
Q.: Aaron, you had career high 11 assists yesterday. What was working for you against Kent State?
AH: I just felt like I got my players involved in them knocking down shots. If they hit shots, I get assists, so that's pretty much what happened.
Q.: What do you guys know about the Cincinnati team? What you probably learned in the last twelve hours?
AH: Just like they're a tougher Kent State team. They're bigger and much stronger than they are and they rebound the ball very well on the offensive end. So we just have to box out and play defense to win.
Moderator: Any further questions? It’s kind of quiet out there. Okay, guys, thank you.
BN Note: After a 12-minute break, Steve Alford came out and sat down at the microphone. So, if you decide to watch the video at the bottom, be sure to skip ahead to the 17-minute mark to watch Coach Alford’s portion.
Moderator: We have UCLA head coach Steve Alford with us. Coach, one quick question from up here. How familiar are you with the Bearcats in such a short amount of time?
CSA: It's a quick turnaround, obviously, but we have watched a lot of basketball throughout the winter and they've been on TV enough and I know the staff well and have the utmost respect for them. I played them when I was at New Mexico, so I know the style.
But, obviously, a good basketball team and all the makings of a great game, two 30-game-win teams. Both these teams have become accustomed to streaks and winning a lot of games so we have a little bit of contrast in styles, so it will be interesting which style wins.
Q.: Cincinnati plays a physical style and they take a lot of pride in guarding the three-point line. What problems does that pose for you guys?
CSA: We've seen a lot of different styles obviously after you've played a long season. But, you're right, they're good defensively. They're physical. They get into it. So, we can't have the ball sticking. We have been a team that has moved the ball very well. Last night, we were 25 assists, 6 turnovers again. So we've got to keep that ball moving whether we're at half court or at the full court. We've got to make sure our spacing is good, our cutting is sharp, our screens are good and physical, and the ball moves. If it doesn't and it becomes a grind that favors them.
Q.: Coach, last night you spoke about winning those four minute battles and earlier Dan Hurley from Rhode Island he mentioned as much. How important is that for this game tomorrow to win those battles because this team likes to shoot 50% or more?
CSA: They are very efficient. Obviously a different kind of tempo than what we play and they're very efficient in it. They do a very good job of getting good shots. They're inside-out. They like to attack you in the post and then they play out of the post with guards who can really shoot it and really drive it, and they've got the backboard on attack all the time.
So, we've got to do a good job of defending that and get on the backboard to even attempt getting to the other end. Those four minute increments are huge because you've got five of them in a half. The game is long enough. if you can shrink it into four-minute games and try to win those four-minute games, it sets you up later in the game.
Q.: Coach, do you have an update on Ike's foot at all?
CSA: He's improving great and we expect him to play. The doctor and the medical staff, we fully expect him to play tomorrow.
Q.: How close was he to playing yesterday?
CSA: He was pretty close, but it's always the student-athletes's best interest in mind first and we just felt like he needed more time.
Q.: Seems like Thomas, 7-footers his size don't always fit into the style of offense that you guys run. What is he able to do to thrive in this style?
CSA: He makes shots. You're going to thrive in this style because we couldn't play this style if we didn't pass the ball well and shoot the ball well, and Tom does both of those things. Tom is a center that takes care of the ball. He doesn't turn the ball over. He's a good passer and he's an outstanding shooter. There aren't too many centers in the country if any that shoot the 15-17 foot shot any more consistently than what he does. So his teammates find him and if you lose track of him defensively that's always a weapon that we have because he's very consistent.
Q.: He was telling us about a shooting drill that you have and shoot from all over the place, and he said he made 206 shots in that. Can you explain that drill if that's ringing a bell?
CSA: I know the drill, but it would take us a couple of hours with no dry erase board to tell you what that drill is. It's a 25 to 30-minute shooting drill where they get a lot of volume shots and nobody has made more than he has. He's not taking threes. A lot of the guards are shooting threes, but he's very efficient in what he does when it comes to shooting the basketball.
Q.: How is the “hip heard around the world” and Lonzo feeling today?
CSA: He's great. I just wanted him to get up. Please get up. It stung him a little bit. It wasn't a nasty fall watching it on tape. It was a pretty good fall, but he responded well after that. He's had a great day today, and I think he will be close to 100% tomorrow.
Q.: Have you practiced?
CSA: No, we’re getting ready to.
Q.: So will he practice?
Q.: He was wincing a little bit, but I'm sure the treatment helped?
CSA: Yeah, he's ready to go. He's tough, so he will be in there.
Q.: With more buzz about the Indiana job online there has been a discussion about how you handled things at Iowa with Pierre Pierce. Do you regret anything you did in terms of handling his rape case?
CSA: No, I talked about the Indiana situation on Thursday. So I have no other comment.
Q.: So another day and LaVar Ball quote. Did you hear about that?
Q.: He said that Lonzo should be the number one pick over Fultz. Any thoughts about that?
CSA: I've said all along, if I was in that business I know who I’d be picking. He's that talented. He’s a very, very special player in every line. Defensively, offensively, how he orchestrates and goes about organizing a team. I've not seen anybody like that, so that would not surprise me if he is the top pick.
Q.: Steve, I just wanted to ask about TJ. How many guys you've seen that size that can shoot the way he does and what you knew about him recruiting when he went to Israel?
CSA: He's a coach's kid. His dad is from Indiana, played in Indiana and then went to Evansville. So he had ties there and then obviously playing for his dad down in San Diego area, so he's grown up that way. He's just got really good skill set. He's almost got guard skill set in a big body. There is not a lot of stretch 4's in the country that average the points he averages, shoots the percentages he shoots and then to have such a positive assist/turnover ratio. He can really pass the basketball. He rebounds the ball well. He's just a very special talent.
I've always thought outside of the point guard position the next most crucial position at the college level is that stretch 4. They're so much harder to defend and you can get so much more versatile defensively when you have a stretch 4 that's the caliber of TJ Leaf and I think he's very special.
Q.: Coach, after last night's game and knowing what kind of opponent you have coming in tomorrow. How much are you stressing rebounding?
CSA: Well, a lot! And I told the team, I didn't think we rebounded as well as we should have. Now with that said, I think we missed 22 shots and they missed 40. So they're going to have more opportunities. We talked about that. Defensively we're pretty sound, but our numbers weren't as good because we gave them too many. They averaged 15 and we gave them their average on the backboard at the offensive end.
We can't do that with Cincinnati. They're bigger, more physical, and we've been rebounding the ball very well during a stretch of 12, 13 games. I do think that's going to be a big key to tomorrow's game if we give up 15 offensive rebounds that's going to be hard on us in this game.
Q.: Coach, Bryce seems confident. Obviously, he's had a little bit of a shooting slump recently. How has he been able to maintain that confidence? And, what are you seeing from him right now? And, how important is he to where you guys want to go?
CSA: Yeah, he's a tough kid. I don't worry about that, and I thought his shooting, he was 2 for 4 from the three last night. I want him to get to the free throw line. I want him to create more, whether that's for himself or even more important for teammates because he's got such good ball skills. So it's about just getting a little bit more aggressive. I think you get this time of year your cuts you don't set up maybe as crisp as you need. We've watched tape of that. He's such a good cutter off the ball and I think we've had some slippage there.
I worry more about that than I do him making shots because he knows how to make shots. It's about freeing yourself up to get better shots and, then, I think he's got a good understanding, too, of -- our offensive efficiency was 139. That's off the charts. We shot 62%. We scored 97, and Bryce only had 6 and didn't get to the free throw line.
So he knows he doesn't have the pressure to have to score or make a lot of shots, even by how people guard him opens up things. Because of the way he was defended, I thought it opened up a ton of things for us inside because if you double us and stay home with him, you saw that, we got dunks at the rim.
It's a give and take. He does a very good job of reading that because of the IQ he has. He's very, very smart that way.
Q.: Coach, I talked to Bryce. He was telling me it's finals time for everyone. How are you managing game prep with guys being prepared for exams?
CSA: That's hard. That’s a hard situation. We had to take exams this morning. It's a unique dynamic. It's different. They understand that. They've got to deal with it. The two that had exams last night got home from our game last night and had to study and get up this morning and take an exam. Again, sometimes you don't hear all those stories, but that's part of being a student-athlete.
They're students first and they get that. They understand that. They’ve done a good job all year of taking care of that first. So that's always going to be the priority and they're always going to have to take care of those things before -- we organize all that. All of the stuff that we do in film and everything is organized around what they have to do academically.
Q.: Can you tell us who those two players were who took the exams today?
CSA: (laughs) Aaron and Isaac.
Here’s the full video of the UCLA media session. Don’t forget to skip from the end of the player portion to Coach Alford’s portion. Otherwise, you’ll be waiting for around 12 minutes. The video is courtesy of the NCAA on YouTube.