March 19, 2002
Los Angeles - UCLA players and coaches were available to the media on Tuesday prior to heading to San Jose for Thursday's Sweet 16 meeting with 12th-seeded Missouri. Below are audio clips from head coach Steve Lavin, Cedric Bozeman, Dijon Thompson, Dan Gadzuric, Rico Hines and Matt Barnes.
Steve Lavin Press Conference Transcript:
What are the keys in the game against Missouri?
Well I think the same approach that we took against Ole Miss and Cincinnati are going to be the important things in terms of taking care of the basketball, getting key defensive stops, and making free throws. Missouri is a prolific offensive team and they are hitting on all cylinders at the right time of the year. They have so many weapons offensively that it's so difficult to just focus on one player. Collectively, UCLA's defense has to try and disrupt Missouri's offense and we have to try and contain some of their prolific scorers from having career nights. But that's easier said than done and our players realize they have their hands full. I think our kids are looking forward to the challenge.
Talk about the play of your younger guys here at the end of the year.
It's kind of interesting, the challenge all year has been managing out 10 players and distributing the minutes so we can maximize the depth that our basketball team has. Now it has become the strength of our team. We are kind of wearing out opponents with out overall depth. That has really become a positive. We have the older, veteran players who are very skilled, very big and know how to win games and close out games. We also have a young group of players that bring great energy, great athleticism and great skills. That combination of the old and the young is finally paying dividends and at the right time of the year it's paying off.
Coming into the tournament, some of the guys were probably pretty discouraged. Do two tournament wins quickly make it all go away or are there still some question marks?
Regardless of your seeding number and regardless of the geographical region that you are playing in, all you can really concentrate on are the 40 minutes that are in front of you. Now Thursday night, the Missouri Tigers are what we really have to lock and focus in on and if we play like we are capable of then we know we can advance. And if not then it's an early spring. The things that we do in the non-conference, the conference and the conference tournament, they are building blocks or a progression to prepare you for the NCAA Tournament, which is the ultimate single-elimination game format that every kid and every coach dreams about competing in. If you play well you advance and if not it's an early spring. We're looking forward to that challenge.
So you think the guys are feeling good about themselves again?
Even in some of the games we had setbacks, we were making progress. Some of our younger kids were gaining valuable experience and now it's paying off. Dijon Thompson has been playing well the last month. Even in some of our losses he was really playing well. Ryan Walcott and Cedric Bozeman played very well in some of our losses. Against Oregon, Ryan played tremendous and had the confidence to take that 3-point shot when we were down three and that was a good sign. In our loss to Arizona State at home, Cedric had one of his best games of the year. So sometimes even in a loss or a setback, your team is making progress or maybe an individual is making progress. As a coach, you have to look at the big picture. Even though you want to win every game, sometimes there are breakthroughs even though you are not seeing it in the win/loss column.
Every year there is criticism and you come through and save yourself so they say. What do you think about that perception?
As a coach, you look at it much differently than a fan does. Fans obviously are emotionally involved and want the team to win every game, which is natural. But as a coach, you are looking at the progression of your season, the building blocks of a season. We play in a very tough league and we are now seeing it with three teams in the Sweet 16. That is really indicative of how tough our league is. We've lost some tough games. We lost a 1-point game to Oregon at home, it was a tie game with Cal in the conference tournament with one minute to go, we lost by one point at Villanova. So when you lose close games there is a tendency to get carried away and think the Bruins are in ruins, where the reality is maybe if you made one free throw or you got one stop defensively or made one less turnover, maybe you win those games. Sometimes when you win a game by one point, those same deficiencies are, but you are fortunate to get that win. So as a coach, as long as you are making progress then late in the season as Pete Newell says, "December is for show and March is for dough," you want your team to peak come tournament time. We've been fortunate that our kids play our best basketball late in the year individually and collectively.
For coach Lavin's complete press conference, please click on the audio link located at the top of this page