Everything UCLA coach Mick Cronin said after beating Alabama basketball in the Sweet 16

The Tuscaloosa News

Here's everything UCLA coach Mick Cronin said after his Bruins defeated Alabama 88-78 in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis:

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by UCLA head coach Mick Cronin. We'll get started with an opening statement.

MICK CRONIN: First of all, I want to congratulate Alabama on their season. To win the SEC Tournament and regular season is a tremendous accomplishment. They got some excellent seniors that play the right way. They play extremely hard. So congratulations to them.

I've been on the other side of this, and it's like driving off a cliff. It's excruciating. So it should not be -- the excellent season they had should not be dismissed.

That said, we held them to seven made threes. It was a huge key for us. We had guys -- I told our guys, you know, the deeper you go, you've got to keep us alive with your performance on both ends. We have six guys in double figures -- six.

I think somebody asked me -- in fact, my guy -- when I'm done with this, I do radio. The UCLA guy said, well, what about scoring outside of Jaime and Jules? Scoring's not our problem. We've got plenty of guys that can put the ball in the basket. Can we stop Alabama, their speed, their quickness, their three-point shooting, and then keep them off the offensive glass? Second chance points, we were only minus two. So I thought that was going to be the big key for us.

I thought game plan-wise -- you can game plan to defend the three, but when that ball comes off the rim and it's in the air and on the floor, you can't let the other team want to win more than you. And our guys did it -- we're not the most athletic team without Chris Smith and Jalen Hill, so our guys just did a great job. Early on, we were down eight, 19-11, and we were already minus five on the glass, and it was headed the wrong way, but the guys toughened up and just did an unbelievable job of battling, for a small team.

And then Jalen Clark got us some big offensive rebounds. Not only did we start blocking off better, we started offensive rebounding, which gave us some life, some second chance points, and some second chances to score, some opportunities to get the ball in the basket.

So I'm really -- and I would say, you know, look, we had a lot of guys that had great performances, but David Singleton is just a tremendous kid. He's everything that UCLA is all about as a school, just a great kid, great family, just great character, so happy for him. Just so happy for David. Just an unbelievable game for him.

Q. Coach, you guys have been in a million of these finishes this season, but when they hit that big three, they had so much momentum, what was kind of the feeling, and what did you say in the huddle before overtime that kind of sparked that big run there?

MICK CRONIN: Not a lot. I just tried to stay calm with the guys, just tell them we've got to continue to execute. I thought our guys had found a rhythm with them defensively and adjusted a little bit to their speed, and they'd kind of gone small, and it was going to be what it was going to be. They would run a pick-and-roll, get the switch, and try to beat us off the dribble.

Cody Riley really had some big stops, some blocked shots. Obviously, not easy for a guy his size to stay in front of Jahvon Quinerly, but these guys have been resilient all year, man. I don't know if this is a fact, but we've got to be the only team left out here with no seniors.

There's many times we could have packed it in, but I told them, they've been putting up with me for two years now trying to beat into them competitive spirit and toughness because, when you combine that with talent, you have a chance to do great things. They've allowed me to do it, and you're seeing the results of it right now.

Q. There seemed like there were a lot of turning points in this game, and you alluded to it. At about 17-9, you called a time-out. They were on a role at about the 11-minute mark, and that turned the game around, it seemed, for you guys. What exactly did you tell them? What message? What did you emphasize in that time-out?

MICK CRONIN: Well, I think we got confused early on a couple of -- trying to fight over some screens, and they beat us off the dribble. So we just simplified everything defensively in how we were going to defend it, and we were just going to have to deal with some mismatches because we were trying to -- it was a strategic adjustment. Then it was also I discussed the rebounding situation. We were already minus five on the glass.

They've got so much talent that, if you give them second and third shots, they're going to beat you. So I discussed that, but then there was a strategic thing we did with their screening that just tried to simplify it for our guys, and that way we didn't get confused. I thought that helped us.

Q. Hey, Mick, was there any thought to fouling?

MICK CRONIN: Absolutely.

Q. Because I was screaming for you to foul him.

MICK CRONIN: Here, I'm a foul guy. Our concern that he had a time-out, and I had told -- he saw me -- Coach Oats saw me telling Tyger and the guys to foul. When Dave makes it, we're going to foul at half-court. My biggest concern was that, when we went to foul, they were going to shoot a half-court shot, and we were going to foul a guy shooting a three-point shot.

You know, Bill, you cover the NBA, they don't foul for that reason. The pro guys are really crafty. So we thought with four seconds, you know, we had -- if we just make one rotation and choke that side of the floor down, we steal that pass. They don't even get that shot off.

That being said, yeah, I am a foul guy, but that's -- you know, that was my concern, Bill. They knew, and when we went to foul him, he was going to shoot it. So obviously, the kids bailed me out. We played great in overtime.

Q. Tyger Campbell had two steals, and he turned both of them into baskets on his own. Can you just talk about that one overtime where he picked off the pass and got the fast break bucket all on his own?

MICK CRONIN: Yeah, he did a great job of reading their drive and reading the kickout. The more we adjusted to stay in front of the ball, we were kicking out into the passing lane. I don't remember the last time, Sam, that we had eight steals, but those are big baskets, right? In a game like this, you get two easy points are gold. So those are huge plays by Tyger.

Q. Coach Cronin, can you talk about the resiliency of your ball club, of being together and staying focused after Johnny had fouled out?

MICK CRONIN: Well, that's the advantage of having guys like Jake Kyman and David Singleton. Tyger and Cody, we're thin at those positions, but we're deep on the wing. Like I said, David Singleton was monstrous today. Jake Kyman hit some big ones in our last win. David's got 15 monster points for us.

I thought Cody -- and then we tried to start getting the ball inside to Cody when Johnny fouled out, and he had a couple of big buckets for us as well.

Q. Mick, how much has this team's confidence grown from the end of the Pac-12 Tournament to now?

MICK CRONIN: Well, I would say that the Michigan State win was a big turning point. And I'll just give you -- you know, from a psychology standpoint, last year we lost to them in Maui. It was a dogfight. We played great. We were 2 for 15 from three. We couldn't score. But we battled them physically, and it was progress because two years ago they were down -- this group of guys, some of the guys were on this team -- David, Jules were freshmen. Tyger was sitting out. Cody was playing. Chris Smith was playing. Kenneth Nwuba was on the team.

Literally, they got embarrassed against Michigan State, I mean, like down 30 at half or something. It was bad. And the guys, for them to come that far to where they could beat a program like Michigan State, I think it just did wonders for their confidence.

Q. Mick, I don't know if you could recall this or not, but was there a different feel in the huddle when you guys got forced into overtime in this one than when you did against Oregon State?

MICK CRONIN: Oh, for sure. Oregon State or Michigan State, we've been in a lot of them. Obviously, Oregon State was tough because, obviously, Jules was down on himself for the free throw. Michigan State, I think I was extremely fired up because it took everything we had to catch a team like that with a Hall of Fame coach from down.

This was tough. When you're in this situation, man, and that happens to you at the buzzer, you've got every reason to fold. Every reason to fold, Mike, as you know. Look, man, we were down 14 in West Lafayette, and it's cold, we're all from southern California. Even me now, I hate the cold weather. My blood is thin, buddy. These guys just refused to give in.

You know me. You know how much I've been trying to instill that will in them, where you just refuse to give in. Somebody might beat you, but you never let up, and you never give in. So I give the kids all the credit, man. Obviously, like I said, they bailed me out, and, shoot, they played as good in overtime as you could possibly play.

Q. Mick, you talked about how excruciating it is to lose this game and you know that feeling. How good does it feel to be on the other side for you?

MICK CRONIN: Again, I've said this, but it is tough being on the other side. March Madness, I'm going to say it, you can't change. I've said this. They had a great year. So many teams have a great year, and we go to this crazy tournament that entertains America, and it's tough. For me -- so somebody said, well, now you've been to an Elite Eight. That's not why I came to UCLA.

I've got a lot of friends in the NBA, they make fun of people that have rings that say conference champion. There's only one. Whoever wins the NBA title is the world champion.

So for me, we've got to win three more games. I'm happy we're alive. You do this to try to have a chance, and you never know when this chance is going to come along again, as a coach, as a coaching staff. You just never know.

So right now, I can't wait to get back and start watching Michigan because I understand how great of a team they have. I'm well aware of how fragile this tournament is, and an opportunity doesn't always knock at your door.

Q. If you don't mind stepping back for me, you're obviously just in your second season, and you've gotten UCLA three wins away from the Final Four. Could you just put it in perspective from the big picture -- I know you said no seniors playing for you this year. Just what you've been able to build in a short period of time, and what it means for you to see the team come through in clutch situations like this and keep pushing forward?

MICK CRONIN: Having worked for Bob Huggins and Rick Pitino, I got tremendous training to get here. So it's my 18th year. All thanks to Dan Guerrero for giving me this opportunity. I would say this, you got to stay focused on the next game. Sure, I'm proud of where we're at.

I would give the players credit. Some people take jobs, and everybody's running for the hills, and everybody stayed. I even had two fifth-year seniors stay. They stayed. Everybody showed up, and we got to work.

I can share this with you, Pete. I told the guys that, if you'll listen and you'll hang in there, this is not going to be easy, but you'll be able to have pride, and you'll be able to hold up your end of the bargain at UCLA, and you'll have a lot -- you'd better hang your head high. You're going to have pride, and we're going to win games, but it will not be easy because it's hard to win. A lot of great coaches in our business, and there's a reason they always win, because the standard is the standard, and you have to demand so much commitment.

But I give the kids credit because, look, there's already a thousand people in the transfer portal. So it's easy to cut bait and run. It's hard to dig in and deal with a short Irishman telling you to get in a defensive stance. I'm very thankful that the guys all hung in there and helped me build this.

Q. I saw you guys play a few times earlier this year. You've had some tough losses. You mentioned the Oregon State one, USC at the end of the season. I saw a crazy Stanford game you lost. Are you a believer that maybe things even out over the course of time, or were you building to where you are now, where maybe you do make that extra play in a close game?

MICK CRONIN: Yeah, look, I think it does help you to be in dogfights, and it helps you to play against really good teams, Dan. I think that my experience tells me that it's fool's gold when you run up and down and you don't get resistance and it's easy to score. We haven't had one of those games in a long time. Even Abilene Christian, Coach Golding does a great job. We made that look easier than it was.

So I think the Pac-12, obviously, is extremely underrated. We're going to have three teams in the Elite Eight. Unfortunately, we've got two playing against each other right now. You mentioned Stanford. They're a tremendous team, extremely deep team, and that was a road game. So I think being in a great league and playing those type of games does help you.

But, again, I give my players credit because some teams fall apart when the pressure comes, and these guys haven't done it, man. They're good kids, and they've dug in there.

Q. Just going back to what you were talking about with their resilience that you've tried to instill and your gratefulness of the players for taking that on, did you have any doubts about -- you know, you're new to the West Coast, and UCLA players -- I don't know. Maybe Earl Watson is the last guy that came to UCLA to play defense. So that they would -- and they weren't your players -- that they would buy in and be able to play in the way you're playing now?

MICK CRONIN: Look, when I took the Cincinnati job, we had one scholarship player. So part of my decision in going to UCLA was we had played them, and I knew the roster. I also knew Jaime Jaquez. I did not know Jake Kyman. Tried to recruit Jaime. So, yes, I knew what the roster was, but they didn't have to stay. And I was honest with them from jump street. I said there is no -- I hear this all the time. Well, he doesn't have his players yet. Yes, I do because I told those guys in the first meeting, you show up at workouts tomorrow -- I addressed that.

If you show up at workouts tomorrow, you're my player. If you don't want to, I fully understand. We'll find you a new home. But if you show up tomorrow, I don't ever want to hear, if we sign a player, that he's going to play his guy.

It's real clear, guys. I'm here to develop you on and off the floor as young men. When we get out there on the floor, we're going to play hard and play to win and represent the four letters. Now, if you show up tomorrow, I don't ever want to hear it again. You are my players. You play for Mick Cronin, period, end of story. So I tried to eliminate that from jump street.

And all that stuff about West Coast teams not playing -- it's so bad. It's so wrong. Tad Boyle, Sean Miller, Wayne Tinkle. Look at Andy Enfield and Dana. Look at the coaches in our league, man. It's a battle royal. We have great coaching in the Pac-12. Great coaching. I didn't mention Jerod Haase. I haven't beat him yet. Our league is so much better than people know. Everybody's sleeping when we play.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach. Appreciate the time. Congrats on the win. We'll see you on Tuesday.

MICK CRONIN: Thanks, guys.