Bridgeport regional rounds 1 and 2 preview, Los Angeles pod

Tomorrow UCLA and Hawaii face off at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles at 3:35 p.m., and South Florida and Colorado State follow at 6 p.m. in round one of the Bridgeport regional.

Today all teams practiced and answered questions afterwards. Notes from the press conferences follow.

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Monique Billings puts up a shot. Photo by Percy Anderson.

UCLA

Coach Cori Close

Opening Statement: “This is just a great opportunity for our team and our program. So many people have worked so hard behind the scenes to create this to be an excellent host environment not only for our team, but for all the teams participating. I love where our team is at. I think we just keep learning and growing every week and every game and I think we’ve been pretty solid at staying present in the moment and how do we get better that day–that’s the key. We talk about surrendering the outcome and really just focusing on the process and usually that leads to a better outcome in the end. We’re just trying to do what we’ve been doing all year and not change a thing. To just really build for the next piece. Just stay calm and enjoy the moment.”

On preparation for Hawai’i: “We’ll see when the ball tips up. Hawai’i is a really good team. In terms of being prepared for Hawai’i, we’ve had great film work. I think the assistant coaches have just done a great job in breaking the films down and having the awareness of what they’re going to do. They have our attention. It’s not like we’re the first Power-5 team they’ve played. They played a lot of great competition. This is not going to be a surprise for them. They will be ready. I think they’re a really confident bunch. They’ve got a very veteran group, but I feel very prepared. It’s going to be about the players now, going out and executing the game plan. That was a big thing that we talked about coming away from the Pac-12 Tournament. We’ve been a very prepared basketball team all year long and one thing we were disappointed about in the finals was how we executed our game plan, but at the same time that really informed our practices and informed our preparation and I really think we’re in a good spot.”

Guard Jordin Canada

On Hawai’i guard/forward Destiny King: “I think it’s just knowing where she’s at on the floor at all times and just being able to communicate that. She’s a really great player. I played against her in high school. She’s going to get hers, but we have to limit her touches as much as possible and force her to use her other teammates and try to make them score as much as possible.”

On her mindset going into her first NCAA Tournament: “I’m a little nervous. This is my first time being in this type of situation, but I’m also focusing at the same time on what my team needs from me in terms of on and off the court and just being able to continue doing what I’m doing throughout the season. Just leading my team and staying focused.”

On Hawai’i’s defense and UCLA’s offensive strategy: “Well it starts with us on defense. I think that’s the main thing. That’s what gets our offense going. If we have that attack mindset on defense, I think we’re just going to get easy breakout lay-ups. [Nirra Fields and I] start that consistently every single game and just having that energy and mindset that it starts with us, too. Just being able to focus on that. I think that creates more offensive flow for us and our team.”

Guard Nirra Fields

On the long layoff heading into the tournament: “We all know the postseason’s one-and-done, so it doesn’t take a lot for us to get riled up–especially me being a senior. It’s my last go. I think just me alone having that energy and having that intensity–I think it’ll rub off on my teammates and we will all be in the same state.”

On Hawai’i’s defense and UCLA’s offensive strategy: “It all starts on the defensive end. When we get stops and we’re in transition, that’s our strength and I think that builds a lot of our offense. Just having that in the back of our minds and really doing it throughout the tournament…”

Hawaii

Coach Laura Beeman

On team’s improvement over the course of the season: “Yeah, we had some early-season struggles. We couldn’t get it together in winning time. We weren’t playing as a connected group and once we really sat down and had some conversations both as a team and individually. Then these two young ladies (Ashleigh Karaitiana and Destiny King) decided it was time. It was time to step up and take their team over. And we really made the conscious effort that we could continue to have fun and continue to represent the state of Hawai’i or we could really do it all by winning. They really kind of took this team under their wings and decided that enough was enough. We don’t really have a go-to girl. It’s not the style of play that we’ve ever had. We have a team that’s led by our two great seniors, and we have more seniors, obviously. They do it as a group and that makes it very difficult to scout us and very difficult to play us. And on any given night, if one person is not doing well, we have other young ladies that can step up. I think that once they recognized that, that’s when all of a sudden we started to roll. We had a process–these guys for four years, but for our team since July. And once they really said ‘We understand, we believe and we’re going to buy in to and commit to this process’–that’s when we really started to roll as a team.”

On representing Hawai’i program that has not reached NCAA Tournament since 1998: “I think any time you can represent not only your university, but your state, it’s amazing. And that’s where Hawai’i’s so unbelievably unique. There’s so many other universities in every state and when you come to Hawai’i, we are the only Division I school. So to have that honor and responsibility to represent that state–they history, yes it’s very important. We haven’t been here since I think it was Vince Goo–who [was an] awesome coach and the team that he had. But more than that, it’s wearing Hawai’i on your chest and just feeling that sense of pride.”

Guard/forward Destiny King

On playing near hometown of Long Beach: “It was very exciting. I have a lot of family that’s coming. They’re going to be there and see my first game in the NCAAs for me. I got so many phone calls from friends and a lot of cousins and aunties and uncles who will be there. I think I was in the locker room for like an hour just answering phone calls and stuff like that…”

On her history playing against UCLA players, particularly guard Jordin Canada: “I think our game’s been improving since then. It’s been since like elementary I’ve played against [Canada]. It’s really good to see familiar faces on the court and stuff like that.”

On team now and improvement since December: “I think it started with us. I think we didn’t have our confidence in the beginning. I think we did, but we didn’t have it in a way that we trusted each other on and off the court. And I think that’s something that we needed to develop as a team. And we needed to make a conscious effort as leaders to do that for our teammates and for them to trust us as well.”

Guard Ashleigh Karaitiana

On slowing down UCLA offense: “Either we’ve got to score or we’ve got to get on the boards and make sure that we have safety and be on point in our transition defense.”

Senior forward Alisia Jenkins puts up a free throw shot. Photo courtesy of South Florida Athletics.
Senior forward Alisia Jenkins puts up a free throw shot. Photo courtesy of South Florida Athletics.

South Florida

Coach Jose Fernandez

Opening statement: “This is a great opportunity for our team. This journey started the last week of July for us, heading into August. We had 10 practices and then we went on a foreign tour of Spain. So the biggest thing, I think, we challenged this team with a great non-conference schedule. And we had to overcome a lot of adversity through the year with missing some guys during different portions of the season. We’re very excited to be here. Everything here in Los Angeles has been great. The hosting committee has done an excellent job hosting these first and second rounds and we’re very excited.”

On Colorado State: “Well, when you look at Colorado State and their roster and their schedule… you don’t win 31 games if you’re not a good basketball team. I think there are teams that won’t go and play them there. It’s tough for them to get home games. In the league, they’ve got to go on the road and play some more games, some tournaments. They’re very, very good. Very well coached. They’re very deliberate on what they do offensively. They’ve got four guys on the floor that can shoot the three and they all can put it down on the floor. And then defensively, they do a very good job of keeping people in front of them. That’s why they’ve won 31 games. I definitely think they’re a lot better than where they’re seeded, that’s for sure.”

On what Colorado State does that stood out on film: “The big thing is they really space the floor really well. They space you and they can all handle the basketball and put it down on the floor and shoot the three. So for us, we just have to stay disciplined and really defend the arc.”

Forward Laura Ferreira

On if she was excited to play in California and if they’ve been here before: “No, it’s our first time. We went to Hollywood and we walked around, saw all the stars in the floor, the Chinese Theatre… and the Hollywood sign, from far away…”

Forward Kitija Laksa

On the difference between American basketball and European basketball: “Well, I think the basketball’s the same. We have five peope on each team, playing the ball. But the difference between European and American basketball is the speed… It’s hard to tell if it’s better to play in Europe or to play here. It’s a different experience and I’m thankful to be here.”

Colorado State

Coach Ryun Williams

Opening statement: “It’s fun to be here. These kids have had a tremendous season and this is the tournament that this group deserves to play in. So extremely excited for our group. We know we’ve got a tough challenge with South Florida, but we’re excited for it.”

On what jumps out about USF on film: “Courtney Williams. She jumps right out off that film. Just a dynamic guard. WNBA player that can get her own shot. But also their skill level around her is tremendous. The versatility they have with their size is tremendous and that’s where maybe they’re a little similar to us is their bigs are pretty interchageable. You’re going to see them step out and shoot the three and drive it. Their floor spacing is exceptional. The more and more you watch, the more impressed you become. And you see why they give UConn fits. Very well coached and they’ve got some weapons.”

Guard Ellen Nystrom

On USF’s international players and international basketball in general: “Well, I don’t know actually. I haven’t played them myself because I’m older. But Amanda (Kantzy) had and she told me that when she played them, they’re really good, the European center (Kitija Laksa). It’s going to be fun to play a foreign team, too.”

On adjusting to American game: “I think the game over here is faster, more athletic. Over in Europe, it’s more pass, think. It’s more team based than over here.”

On if they consider themselves the underdog: “I don’t think that matters. Now it’s one game at a time. If you lose, you’re out. So I think all the teams come in with the same mentality.”

Guard Jamie Patrick

On what the week has been like leading up to game: “I think we were just kind of relieved to have no pressure. This is probably the most calm but competitive still practices that we’ve had–this past week, the past few practices. I think we’re all just calm and ready to play.”

On overseas trip during the offseason and what it did to develop team chemistry: “That was definitely huge for us. We had four freshmen coming in and our team has a lot of international girls, so it’s kind of fun to see where they came from and just kind of brought us together as a team knowing their background and kind of bringing their side into the American way of basketball. And I think it brought us really close and it kind of gave us a head start to our season.”

On losing one game by one point: “That kind of made it hard. There were a few close games we had throughout our conference play. I think it kind of helped us having that one loss. We didn’t have as much pressure going into conference and we had that one loss on our back. And to go into conference, it kind of gave us a boost, though. But in the conference tournament was kind of where it all started again because if you lose the first game you’re out. And no matter, your one-loss season didn’t matter. So to win our conference tournament was really awesome. We get the chance to come to the NCAA Tournament.”

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