Lexington WBB Regional: Thursday Quotes
NCAA Women's Regional Semifinals and Finals: Lexington
Thursday, March 24, 2016
THE MODERATOR: We're joined at the podium by head coach Matthew Mitchell. Questions for Coach?
Q. What kind of opportunity is it to play for a Final Four in front of a home crowd? And is there a little added pressure to that too?
COACH MITCHELL: Well, if we play well, it will be a lot more fun for everybody, but the home court didn't do much for us last year versus Dayton, so (home) court doesn't really do it for you. Didn't do much for Arizona State. Didn't do much for Maryland. I mean, you have to play. Would it be exciting for us if we get rolling and playing well? Could we have some added juice in the building because it's us? Of course.
But there is certainly -- we're not looking at pressure right now. We're trying to look at our attitude and our effort, and that's how we try to make it happen for us in the first two rounds, and I thought we really hustled and played hard and responded to adversity and that opportunity on our home court.
I would love to go to a Final Four. That's been a goal of our program and a dream of all of ours, and we believe we're going to do it one day and we hope it's this year. But it won't be because the Rupp Arena floor jumps up and makes any baskets or has -- the building won't get it done for us. The players will, and that's how we're trying to approach this.
Q. What is the status of Makayla Epps? What is the status on her injury and do you expect her to play?
COACH MITCHELL: We do expect her to play. She's doing fine. If you sprained an ankle like Janee sprained an ankle before a couple of games, it's not comfortable, but she'll play fine and she'll be able to play and she'll be ready tomorrow night at 7.
Q. (Kelsey) Plum for Washington, does she compare to anybody else you've faced this season and how critical is it to keep her off the foul line? That seems to have kind of been her MO all season.
COACH MITCHELL: You know, I've been so focused on trying to get to know her and watch her I haven't really thought about a comparison. I can't think of anybody right off the top of my head. She is a fantastic player. She does so much for their team. What I've noticed is she really keeps them together. They're a really together team. It's a fun thing to watch. Tough to prepare for. They're very, very tough. But there is a togetherness about them that is impressive.
And I really love the way she carries herself on the court in between plays. She just seems like she's always got something positive to say to her teammates it seems like. She would be a fun player to play on the team with. She can handle the ball so well and she is such a smart player that if you don't pay attention to your defensive discipline and your positioning, she can draw some fouls and she can do it off the dribble. She can do it with shot fakes around the basket.
Just a really, really good player. She's the leading scorer in the country for a reason. She's very, very good, and we have tremendous respect for her ability and we're working hard to prepare ourselves the best that we can.
One thing about it: All the things that we value on defense, you're going to need against the Washington team, and that's just giving a great, great effort. An honest effort is going to be important. Give your very best. Starting it all with hustle and hard work is going to be important and discipline. Those are the three things that we really try to build our defense around: honesty, hard work, discipline. They will definitely need -- we'll need to exercise those at our highest level to have a chance in the game.
Q. I think of the 16 first- and second-round sites, Lexington was 12th in attendance. Was that disappointing to you? And what Friday night in terms of crowd support would be successful for you?
COACH MITCHELL: Well, I'm never disappointed when people put down their hard-earned money to buy a ticket to a game and show up. I don't know where we ranked attendance wise, but disappointing wouldn't be anywhere in my thought process on what those crowds were like. They were phenomenal crowds. It was a great, great energy in the building, and I would expect that it's going to be a great energy in the building.
We've worked hard the last couple weeks to try to make people aware that the game is here. So it's four fantastic schools. I think it's really some of the best examples of the students that the NCAA has to offer. Great schools. Washington, Stanford, Notre Dame are incredible universities. We are real proud of our university. We believe it's a world-class university. So I think that if people are interested in seeing high-level students that are great athletes compete, this is going to be a great weekend for that. We sold a bunch of tickets so far, and I'm grateful to people. It's always an honor if somebody will pay a ticket price to come watch a team play. So we're excited about the weekend.
Q. It seemed like you did a really great job of keeping your team focused on the task at hand in those first two rounds. Is that still important to you now not to look ahead and stay focused? How are you able to do that, because you did it so well in the first two games?
COACH MITCHELL: Well, I think it gets actually easier the further you go. That first weekend's hard. I'm telling you, the first weekend's really hard because everybody, you know, you're looking down the road a little bit. As a coach, I think the first weekend is so tough, especially with how the schedule is constructed for the SEC. We've got a pretty big gap in between when we play an SEC Tournament to the NCAA Tournament. Then everybody in the tournament wants to make it a Sweet 16 round. It's hard to do, it's not easy to do. So I think there is pressure there because the kids want it so much.
When you get to this weekend, it's a very good team you're going to play, and if you don't win Friday, there is nothing to worry about on Sunday. So it's not as difficult as you might think.
Our team has shown a great ability to focus on the task at hand and to really lock in. When I have different friends of mine that come and visit practice, old coaching friends of mine who aren't coaching anymore but come in and watch some practice, all year long they've talked about this is a very focused group. They listen to everything that you say.
And so, look, it will be a real, real challenge. Washington's an outstanding team. They put a lot of pressure on you to score and are just very dynamic offensively.
So this is a tough, tough game. I don't anticipate our team worrying too much about anything but Washington right now. If they do, they'll learn a real hard lesson, real tough lesson, and I think they want to give their very best, and that's what I expect them to do.
Q. Coach, they decided to fly back to Washington last week instead of going from Maryland to here. I guess, how much does that play a factor? I know that you guys played in a regional in I think Spokane or whatever in 2010 or '11. How does that prepare them?
COACH MITCHELL: To be honest with you, I haven't given any thought to Washington's travel plans or what they're doing. It won't factor into our game preparation. I know for us, we've tried to use the time that we've had to get familiar with them and they're such a great team and so well coached and play so together that it will be a real tough matchup. We're looking forward to it and have a lot of respect for them.
Q. What is your biggest concern when you look at Washington? What are the things you're going to have to do really well in order to succeed?
COACH MITCHELL: Well, you're going to have to, I think, start on the defensive end. You're going to have to be really, really tough. One thing that we tried to talk about for our team in this tournament, we wanted to be the team that it was visible that we were hustling more than our opponent. And you're going to really have to outhustle Washington. They play very hard. They play very together.
I just think that you've got to lock in on defense and be in the right spot and be very disciplined and stay the course throughout the possession because they have a lot of weapons and everybody knows their role. They just run great, great offense.
I think our attitude is the most important thing. Our effort's very important. Then our positioning and being in the right spot. Just having the discipline to combat their skill. They do a great job with shot fakes. They do a great job with driving angles. They get to the line a lot.
So we're just going to have to play a really smart, tough, disciplined game. That's not a great concern, but that's the issue that you have. I mean, I believe we can do it, but that's what's facing you with Washington. So defensively I think that's important.
Then offensively be patient enough and being tough enough to get to the line as well. They'll try to force you into settling for some perimeter shots. And the teams that take a really large amount of threes against them don't seem to do very well. We've got to have the patience and the toughness to try to attack their zone and really get the ball in the paint and be tough. Because one thing it looks like to me, they're just saying you're not getting anything easy in the paint around the basket. You're going to have to make some perimeter shots. So you can't fall into the trap of being impatient and taking a lot of quick shots. You've got to be tough.
So I guess to sum it up against them, you're going to have to be tougher than them, and that's something that I tell our players all the time. You're in control of that. You have a choice to be the tougher team, and it's a tall task to be tougher than Washington. They're very, very tough.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for the press conference for the Kentucky women's basketball team. We're joined by Kentucky student-athletes Janee Thompson and Makayla Epps.
Q. Makayla, how are you feeling in comparison to the other night when you left the game for a little bit?
MAKAYLA EPPS: I'm feeling a lot better than I did Monday night when I took the fall. Of course I still have a little pain and soreness, but that's expected. Nothing that's going to hinder me from playing tomorrow, though.
Q. For both of you, Matthew talked about toughness is going to be the thing that wins or loses this game tomorrow night. After all the stuff both physically and off the court you guys have been through, do you feel like you're a tough team in general?
MAKAYLA EPPS: I feel like we came a tough team. There's been times in a couple games where we haven't shown toughness. We were on a three-game losing streak and we weren't tough in that period. But I think as of now we're very tough, a tougher team than we were. We're going up and grabbing rebounds with two hands. We're winning 50-50 plays when necessary. We've got people being gritty, a lot of people fouling. I don't know if that's tough or just getting cheap fouls.
But regardless, we're playing a lot harder than we did in the opening of the season. Coach is right --
tomorrow will be all about toughness. The tougher team will win tomorrow.
JANEE THOMPSON: I completely agree. The tougher team will win. I do think we're a tough team. I think as far as tenacity and resilience goes, I think we have those qualities, and I think they've come because of some of the adversity that we've gotten through during the season. So I think we're ready to play and we're just ready to outwork the opponent.
Q. Could you both talk about what it's been like kind of mentoring Taylor (Murray) and Maci (Morris) this season and what their personalities have been like and if that's been an easy job, difficult job or how that's been for each of you?
JANEE THOMPSON: I'd say overall it's been pretty easy. There are times when it's tough because they're freshmen and they make some silly mistakes. But they're both so open to learning. They never have anything to say, they never have any excuses. They just want to get better and they want to do it right, and they trust that Makayla and I know what it is that they need to be doing and that we're trying to help them.
It's been really easy and they work so hard and they've been working hard since the moment they stepped on campus, so I admire how far both of them have come.
MAKAYLA EPPS: I don't really look at them as freshmen being that's their class. But they play starters, they play veteran. Maci starts, Taylor plays starter's minutes. We're very proud to be on the team. They've both grown so much over the course of the season. And like I said, they never have an excuse.
They never back down from a challenge. Janee and Taylor were arguing over who was going to pick up the ball the other day in the Oklahoma game. That's a freshman and a senior arguing over who is going to stop the ball. So it's little stuff like that that shows this team has made great strides and those two freshmen have made great strides.
Q. What kind of environment do you expect here at home playing for the possibility of a Final Four?
JANEE THOMPSON: I think it will be electric. It's always fun when we come here. We've been here a few times this year and the fans really come out and support us. We've got the best fans in the country. It will be exciting when we finally get out there and we make some plays and get the crowd going.
MAKAYLA EPPS: Like Janee said, I expect it to be electrifying. It's a Friday night, 7 p.m. What else could people in Lexington possibly be doing? So I'm encouraging everybody to come out. It's a home court for us. Even though the court doesn't really mean the team will win or not, but I'm encouraging everybody to come out, and I'm sure it will be fun.
Q. This year the road to the Final Four goes through Lexington, so it's nice not having to leave town. What have you guys done to keep distractions to a minimum, to be able to keep focused and to literally to relax and enjoy yourselves during this period?
MAKAYLA EPPS: Coach takes great care of us in many different ways. Right now we're staying at a hotel off campus, so we're not on campus around our friends and other students. We're in a hotel by ourselves.
Everybody's got their own rooms so you can get some space from your teammates and get some downtime for yourself. It was like that for the first two rounds too.
So we're just staying focused. We're treating it like a road game even though we're in Lexington, so that's the big focus of it all.
JANEE THOMPSON: Yeah, exactly what Makayla said. The environment and the atmosphere, it's like a road game, so there are no distractions. It's almost like we're away until we get out on the court.
Q. Having played here before in a big arena, just the shooting background, do you think it's an advantage for you guys because you are familiar with this arena?
MAKAYLA EPPS: Not really an advantage, because like I said, again, a court doesn't necessarily mean you're going to win or lose. Washington came into Maryland and beat Maryland at home. So that just goes to show how sometimes the ball won't bounce in your favor. Who is to say we'll go out and shoot 50 percent from the line tomorrow, it could be a contested battle. I'm sure being we're playing here in Kentucky the crowd will get behind us and stuff like that, so that will help us in a sense. But at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter where you're playing at.
JANEE THOMPSON: Same. It doesn't matter where we're playing. We've got to go out there and make plays and do what we're supposed to do and outwork Washington to win the game.
Q. Makayla, your dad has gotten a lot of air time over the recent games. He always looks so tense. He's tough to watch. Is there anything you can do to kind of relax him?
MAKAYLA EPPS: You know, it's funny because I think I have made some type of play that I wasn't happy with myself and they had shown him in Memorial (Coliseum). As I was walking back I was looking, and in my head I was thinking, he's not happy with you right now. But maybe that wasn't the case. He does have like a tense, serious face all the time, but people were telling me your dad was really out there cheering for you, so it's tough like that that makes me feel good.
I think that's just his demeanor and he takes me after the game and tells me I played good regardless of what the stat sheet said. He was proud of me for getting back out there after my injury.
Q. Apparently your dad played with a lot of great players here in Kentucky. What's it make you feel like when a guy like Derek Anderson is saying he's watching you and seeing some of your dad? Because he knew you when you were young and he's proud to see and a lot of his teammates are the same way.
MAKAYLA EPPS: I know a lot of them guys personally now that I've grown up. Of course they always tell me they used to baby sit me and stuff when my dad wasn't around. I saw Cameron (Mills) the other day at the (Kentucky) Boys State Tournament, and I talk to Derek often, so just to hear stuff like that really means a lot to me.
Of course I was younger when my dad was playing, I had just been born, so I didn't get a chance to see him in action like some of you did. I've seen clips, but that's still not the same feel. But to be in the same category and get the same characteristics and viewpoint that my dad did really means a lot to me.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for the press conference for the Washington women's basketball team. We're joined by head coach Mike Neighbors. Questions for Coach.
Q. You all did what you did in the second round. You've had a pretty good road record all year. What's been the key for you guys to play as well as you have away from home this season?
COACH NEIGHBORS: I think when we get on the road we eliminate a whole lot of distractions that you have at home. You see your surroundings; you've got a lot of friends there. When you get on the road, it's a really small travel group. I think this group is a really tight knit. We've had a cool vibe about our team all year long, and it's turned out that's what it is. They kind of like to be together.
We've been on the road a lot. We've had to travel a long way to get to Maryland and back and on get to here. I wouldn't have done that with a team that doesn't get along, but this team gets along really well. I think being on the road eliminates a lot of distractions and you can really focus on what's at hand.
Q. What was your thinking process behind taking it back to Seattle and bringing them back to the Eastern Time Zone? Do you worry about jet lag or any of that stuff moving forward?
COACH NEIGHBORS: I've talked to a lot of people faced with that decision before and making a day back and forth. Everybody wishes they would have slept in their own bed. I let the kids go back and enjoy the excitement. If we would have just stayed up there and maybe spent the day in DC and touring monuments or something, we would have never gotten to go home and let our fans see us and their friends that we were talking about, being away, plus we would have been away for a significant amount of time. We are on Spring Break, so that was a factor. We weren't going back and having to rush with classes.
And I don't know if y'all traveled lately on one of these charters, but it was not like we were in a bus or train or something. It's pretty nice. And they had their own rows.
I asked them. I've really learned to trust this team. I got some input. I knew what I wanted to do, but it didn't matter what I wanted; they wanted to go home. So we did that and turned around and we had a really hard travel trip in Baltimore. It was way out. We had a lot of traffic to deal with and all kinds of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" moments. I don't know if you've seen that movie. This trip's been great. I don't think you'll see any effect on it.
Q. Could you talk about Makayla Epps and your impressions of her?
COACH NEIGHBORS: Yeah, any time a kid's capable of putting a triple-double on you, she better get your attention. She can dominate the game without having to score. She can dominate the game without having to get shots. She's a very, very impressive leader. You can tell that she's the one that gets them rallied together.
Obviously growing up watching her dad play, I'm from Arkansas, so I remember the days of him playing.
Then when we recruited her, you could tell who she was immediately, her styles of play. She presents a lot of problems because she's so aggressive. And we've got a player like that too, so we have to guard somebody like that in practice every day. And when she can hit you scoring, she can hit you rebounds, she can hit you with assists, she makes a really hard weapon.
Q. Coach, longtime girlfriend Amy (Ratliff) usually works at the scorer’s table at Kentucky?
COACH NEIGHBORS: Amy and Holly both, the twins.
Q. They recused themselves for this game, right?
COACH NEIGHBORS: Yeah, you see them in purple back there. That's a big deal for these guys. I gave our kids a little lesson on Big Blue Nation and how deep it runs. When the brackets came out, obviously, we were doing the distance relationship thing. She lives in Lexington. She travels out a lot. They live four, five miles from here. They would have probably been working this if we had not been in it. So it's neat to be here and playing. They're two of our biggest fans.
Q. Can you talk about your familiarity with Lexington? You're probably out here quite a bit?
COACH NEIGHBORS: Yeah, I gave the bus driver a shortcut yesterday. There was a backup on New Circle, getting off on the exit, so I told him if you just shoot on right past, if you take a right down there, we come in the back way to Double Tree. So he said, “Yeah, that's a good idea,” and we did. So we remarked about this. It's strange to be on a road trip and know exactly where you are. We're going to have a cookout at 4401 Hartland Parkway tonight at 6:37. It's right there on the corner. It's a dangerous intersection and a lot of wrecks there. But we'll be grilling. We've got a new grill for this. If they get the deck clean, we'll be grilling out at 6:30 for the games.
Q. Your kids, I imagine, are in Arkansas?
COACH NEIGHBORS: They're in Arkansas. Je is, yeah.
Q. Are they going to come out for this?
COACH NEIGHBORS: It's Easter weekend. My mom and dad do the biggest Easter egg hunt in Washburn, Arkansas. There's only 80 people there, so it's not that big of a deal. But they're not going to be here. It's Easter; it's a big holiday. They're a little superstitious too. The last time they came to watch us play on a long road trip, we were the No. 1 seed when I coached at Xavier. We were the No. 1 seed in the A-10 Tournament and we lost in the first round to the eight seed. It was a massive upset. So they've kind of soured on the idea of coming to tournaments.
Q. You mentioned you gave your kids a tutorial on Big Blue Nation. What did you tell them and how did you prepare them?
COACH NEIGHBORS: We walked into Craft Center yesterday and our kids have their pictures and cameras out taking pictures and videos. You're like, oh boy, they're a little bit excited about their environment. And that's good. I wanted them to be excited. Coming into a place like Rupp Arena, I expect there to be 20,000 people out there. When I said that, they kind of got big eyes. I said we may have 200, and they went crazy.
They were like, “We're going to have 200 people, you think?” They were excited about the 200 and not intimidated by the possibility of 20,000. But just to explain to them how tradition rich this area is with basketball and how knowledgeable they are about basketball and how much it means to the student- athlete experience.
I want our kids to soak it all in. I want them to experience every single part of this, because that's why they do it. We do have four great teams here that can exemplify good student-athletes when it comes to being on and off the court.
Q. Is there any update on Mathilde Gilling?
COACH NEIGHBORS: Yeah, she did not tear her ACL, which is great news for all of us. She's just been a tremendous person on our campus and in our program for four years. And that would have been a terrible way for it to have ended. But she does have an injury that's going to be day-to-day. It's going to be pain tolerance. She's yet to practice. We'll see what happens this afternoon. But we're hopeful, obviously, that she'll be ready to go because she's been our only sub for the last several games.
Q. I'm wondering how many defenses or otherwise you've seen thrown at Kelsey (Plum) and how she gets past all that?
COACH NEIGHBORS: I think we've seen everything. Unless somebody invents something new, we've seen it all. We adopted a motto at the beginning of the year: Just make them wrong. Whatever they throw at us, let's make them wrong. We've got plans for every single type of thing to do, and we've seen it, and we've simulated it in practice over and over and over.
So it's really kind of nice for us because we don't have to spend a lot of time trying to predict what a team's going to do. We get in the flow of it and have a couple things to do regardless of how they guard her, and we adjust throughout the game. If you've watched her play for any amount of time, you know it doesn't take her long to figure things out.
Q. Going back in time a little bit, how did you figure out how to best make use of Chantel (Osahor) and having a unique skill set put her in that frame?
COACH NEIGHBORS: Yeah, we got lucky when we found her. I saw her more initially as a great passer and shooter; then you learn that she can score around the basket and she's a great defensive player too. So she's our backup point guard. And she's not your prototypical point guard. We run a lot of our action through her in the half court. Kelsey will bring the ball up court and then she throws it to Chantel, and Chantel makes those reads. There is not a more instinctive passer in the country. I'm not saying passing post. I'm saying passer, period.
She sees this like chess. I always use that analogy. She plays basketball like a chess player. She's a couple moves ahead of all of us, including me. She'll say some things: “Coach, I think this if we did this.” And lo and behold, she turns out to be right most of the time.
So we had to learn to manage her minutes. Obviously, her freshman year we didn't have a good plan for that. We tried to make her practice every day and got really stickler with those rules. If you can't practice, you can't play. Well, she simply can't practice every day and be ready to play. So we made the decision we'd rather have her on the court for games than practice. So she practices one day less and does a cardio workout in the pool, but she can do that because she's so cerebral. And now we've got her minutes per game up the last five or six games she's playing 37, 38 minutes a night.
Q. I'm sure you've got such a good inside scouting report on Kentucky. Other than Makayla Epps, can you talk about your general impressions of Kentucky?
COACH NEIGHBORS: Yeah, I think Matthew's done a really good job changing the depth, taking the pressure off full court all the time and becoming a really good half-court team when he needs to be, and I think that's made them a lot harder to play against.
Used to be you knew what you were going to get and he wasn't going to change. Again, it's like a pitcher just having a fastball. They used to have a fastball, and now he's got a changeup, a curve, a slider. It's not just Makayla Epps. Maci Morris can go 4 for 5 on you, if you spend too much attention on her, and if you get a body on those bigs, they're going to both get double- doubles. And Janee Thompson, I've seen her play probably more than anybody in the SEC. We recruited a few of her teammates when I was coaching at Xavier. Just her steady and ability to be big when they needed her to be big.
I think their role development with this team is probably as identifiable as any team of theirs I've seen in the last eight or nine years. I think they really, really have done a good job with the group they've got. I tell you, these guys (the Ratliff twins) don't give me anything. They're still Big Blue Nation unless we're playing. I mean, they didn't give me any tips. But I watch them a lot on film. I've got a lot of friends that coach in the league still.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for the Washington women's basketball team press conference. We're joined by Kelsey Plum, Talia Walton and Chantel Osahor. Questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Kelsey, just winning at Maryland on their home floor, how much confidence does that give you going into what you're facing Friday, and just what's made you a good road team this year? I know your road record is pretty good?
KELSEY PLUM: It was a great team win against Maryland. I think that we just stayed together and we had a great game plan going in. Our coaches did a phenomenal job of getting us prepared. So I think going into tomorrow night we had the same game plan. Obviously, a different team, but we're going to stay together, we're going to fight tremendously hard.
I think defense is going to be the key in this game. And like you said, we've been playing a lot of close games all year on the road. The Pac-12 Conference has really helped us. There have been some really tough teams that we've had to face on the road this year, so I think that's prepared us for this game tomorrow night.
Q. Talia, how do you feel about playing Kentucky in Rupp Arena?
TALIA WALTON: I'm excited. Obviously this is a phenomenal facility and a great city that just loves their basketball here, so it's nice to come in and play in a place like this. As a team we're excited as well, and know it's another challenge that we're going to have to face. I'm excited to see how we overcome.
Q. Kelsey, how do you guys play with five or six players? Has it made you a better, more cohesive team because you have fewer players?
KELSEY PLUM: It's kind of funny, we've been getting this question a lot lately. We've actually played five or six players all year. It's just the five of us and then people that come in. We play really well together and we have a great chemistry. It's not nothing new for us. We're 20-plus years old. There are a lot of media timeouts. You know, we're playing on adrenaline. We have a lot of fun with it. I figured honestly it keeps the game flowing and it allows for things to kind of work together in the game. There is a lot of cohesiveness.
It's really nothing new for us. Obviously Kentucky's a very good team. They have a lot of players that can really go, so it's just going to be another fun challenge for us.
Q. Chantel, I was wondering how much jet lag, if any, you guys have experienced going East Coast back to West Coast and back to East Coast? Coach said you guys sort of voted to go back home. Do you still feel good about that decision?
CHANTEL OSAHOR: Yeah, I feel great. I think we all feel great. No jet lag anywhere. We're good.
Q. Kelsey, I know you were a pretty highly recruited player. What made you decide on Washington when you did, and what made you decide to stick to Washington when the coaching change happened?
KELSEY PLUM: I chose the University of Washington for a number of reasons. I loved the school. I love the area of Seattle. Seattle's a basketball town and they really support their women's basketball. In addition to that I wanted to help build a program. Talia and Jazmine Davis and Aminah Williams, they set the foundation, and I wanted to come try something new. No disrespect to top recruits, but they come in and join Baylor or Tennessee or whatever the case may be. Not that that's a bad thing. But I wanted to take a leap of faith and try something different. I stuck with my commitment because that's the school I fell in love with. Those are the teammates I fell in love with and the coaches. And Neighbors is a great basketball mind and he's going to do a good job, so I felt like that was still the right place for me.
Q. Talia, is it odd that your coach is dating a Kentucky fan? Has that become sort of an inside joke?
TALIA WALTON: Well, she doesn't look like a Kentucky fan right now. But it's a lot of fun. It felt like it wasn't even a road trip when we got to the hotel because we had little goodie bags in there and cards saying "Go Dawgs" on them. So it was a lot of fun. Obviously we know they've still got a little blue inside their heart, but it's nice to see them supporting us this weekend. No, they're really big fans of ours and they support us throughout the entire year. This is nothing new.
CHANTEL OSAHOR: They bleed purple.
NOTRE DAME QUOTES
THE MODERATOR: We will open it up with questions for the Notre Dame women's basketball team. We're joined by head coach Muffet McGraw.
Q. You played Stanford in this round last year. What are the differences you see in their team this year?
COACH MCGRAW: Well, I think both teams lost really good players with Jewell Loyd on our side. Amber Orrange, Bonnie Samuelson really shot it well against us last year. So I think they're a young team, very talented. Erica McCall I think probably really improved more than anyone on their team. She's really, really playing great basketball right now.
Q. Lili Thompson for Stanford seems to be heating up. You all really held her in check last year. Just what you see from her on film?
COACH MCGRAW: I'm not sure if we held her in check. I think she got into foul trouble last year. She's the key to their team. I think she's the emotional leader. She's somebody that can really drive the ball well and coming off a huge win over South Dakota State with the late-game drive. She can shoot the threes, put it on the floor. She's a difficult matchup for us.
Q. I'm curious with two Pac-12 teams, what you've seen from the West Coast a few years ago? Is it harder to get those kids to come east now?
COACH MCGRAW: I think that the Pac-12 had a great year. I think they were not as highly regarded in the past. I think they've always played good basketball, and now they've really kind of stepped up a level. They were No. 1, I think, in the RPI. So I think for us recruiting wise, we try to recruit nationally, but it's getting a lot more difficult to get kids off the West Coast. They can play close to home, stay in the Pac- 12, and it's great basketball. I think it's definitely changing.
Q. Lindsay has had two different type of games in this tournament so far. What do you want from her in terms of scoring, distributing? In the first game she didn't do much scoring. Did a lot of other stuff, and second round she got 20-something for you.
COACH MCGRAW: I think the thing that makes her the best point guard in the country is she takes advantage of what the defense gives her, and she does whatever we need her to do on that particular day. You're absolutely right. In the first game she had eight assists at halftime. Did not attempt a shot, and with 11 assists, 1 for 2 from the field.
In the second game, needed her to score 10 for 13 from the field and still had seven assists. So she does whatever we need. She has a great sense of this is what the defense is giving us today, and that's what I'm going to take advantage of.
Q. When you lost Jewell after last season, at that point in time how certain were you of what you had with this team and where it could go?
COACH MCGRAW: I think there were a lot of questions early on. Especially it was going to depend on the development of our freshmen. We lost 20 points a game, we lost rebounding and a big shot maker in Jewell. We had to hope that our freshmen were able to fill in. What surprised me was Madison Cable. She stepped up and really took over the big shot part of the game. She made big plays at both ends of the floor.
And Arike (Ogunbowale) and Marina (Mabrey) really came along quickly, and they were fearless and confident, and they were able to come in and give us statistically the scoring that we missed with Jewell. So I think we made great strides.
Hannah Huffman has played a lot more minutes without Taya (Reimer), and she's played extremely well. I think it's great for the senior class. It's really had a lot more of an opportunity to play, and they've really embraced it.
Q. Could you talk about Brianna Turner and the fact that she missed six games? Lot of questions early in the season. Not only do you count on her, but she delivers every game.
COACH MCGRAW: When she went down, we almost felt the season vanish in front of our eyes. We were so happy she was able to come back, because during that stretch I think we played four or five ranked teams, and without her in the lineup defensively, gave up a lot of points. She just gives us so many things on both ends of the floor. Somebody that can score, run the floor, helps us defensively. She's a great presence in the lane. She has really improved this year as the season has gone on. She's become a much better face-up player, much better passer. She's so important to our team. I think probably in the last maybe eight to 10 games she's gotten a lot more aggressive offensively and is looking for the ball more.
Q. Could you talk about Hannah Huffman and the fact that she came in as a freshman playing the post at 5-9 and really developed her game? This has to be a special game for her against a West Coast team like Stanford when she's really contributing playing her best basketball right now.
COACH MCGRAW: She gives us so much energy off the bench. She's another player that does whatever we need her to do. She comes in for defense, rebounding. She's got so many huge offensive rebounds in the ACC Tournament. Eighteen rebounds in three games coming off the bench. So she does a lot of the little things that don't show up on the stat sheet. She gives us the points and the energy.
Q. Notre Dame is shooting 50 percent for the entire season. What's enabled you to be so efficient offensively?
COACH MCGRAW: I think our shot selection is very good. I think we're really smart offensively. We know who is going to take the shots and what shots they're going to take. I think we've shot the ball really well from the 3-point line this year.
Q. Where the team is at right now, are you comfortable with a No. 1 seed playing a Sweet 16 game and an Elite Eight on another team's home court?
COACH MCGRAW: I think that's probably a good question for Washington. We were kind of focused on Stanford. But I will say when we played the regional in South Bend on our home court it was a tremendous advantage. We beat Baylor, and having that home court, the electricity of the crowd, really, really helped us.
Q. Along those same lines, the city of Lexington is known as a basketball city. Can you talk about the host city and playing in historic Rupp Arena?
COACH MCGRAW: We've had a player from Lexington so we know a little bit about Kentucky basketball, and we have one coming in next year from the same area. We think basketball is big in Indiana and it's equally big in Kentucky. The All-Star Game has always been a lot of fun for everybody in the state. We know the fans
here embrace basketball, especially women's basketball, and we're excited to see the crowd.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for the press conference for the Notre Dame women's basketball team. We're joined by student-athletes Lindsay Allen and Hannah Huffman.
Q. Lindsay, what do you remember about last year's game at Stanford? What do you remember about that game and how they look on film now?
LINDSAY ALLEN: Yeah, I think we're both kind of two different thing teams. I think we did a great job sticking to our game plan well. We figured out what they're doing on ball screens and we got our shots that we worked on in practice.
So I think this game is mostly kind of worrying about Erica McCall, a great post, and making sure we give the ball to Brianna (Turner), who is really great. She's averaging a great percentage in there. And then focus on Brianna and make sure the guards are ready to shoot the ball and just make sure we're sharing the ball.
Q. How do you feel about the way you played the first couple rounds of the tournament and what you need to improve on heading into the regionals now?
HANNAH HUFFMAN: I think the first two rounds we kind of got out our tournament jitters. So I think in the last game we kind of struggled with doing some of the things that we originally practiced. I know we were trying to get in certain areas of the zone, and we do a good job of that. So I think that's what we're going to focus on what we did in practice and translating that to the game. We do a better job with that.
But I'm pleased with the fact that we got through the first two rounds, and I think we're in a pretty good place right now.
Q. Lindsay, you're one assist away from having a phenomenal number of 200 assists going into tomorrow's game. With so many options when you get the ball, last game you had 22 and the game before that you had one point, but you had 10 assists. When you get the ball and you have so many options, are there times in the game when you're looking for a certain player and try to control who is going to get the ball and a touch at a certain time?
LINDSAY ALLEN: Yeah, I think I do. I think it's mostly whoever has a mismatch at the moment or whoever has a hot hand at that time in the game. We just kind of go through our offense. It's really whoever is open and who makes the right read. We do a good job of sharing the ball. We're really unselfish. It's mostly about whoever is open and can make the best shot.
Q. How important has defense been for Notre Dame during the course of the season? Some of the big wins we've had have a lot to do with defense as much as offense. Can you talk about that mindset going into tournament time? You've had some outstanding efforts defensively for the Irish, and that's going to be important.
HANNAH HUFFMAN: Yeah, I think especially when you just see the game, being focused and dialed in on defense, it's really important. I think the best thing about defense is effort and your mentality. I think when we decided to really lock down on the defensive end and understand the matchups and personnel, we're a really hard team to score against. So I think we did a great job of that this year, and it's going to be important moving forward.
Q. I know Notre Dame's shooting almost 50 percent for the entire season. What's enabled you to be so efficient offensively?
HANNAH HUFFMAN: Lindsay Allen. Probably the one thing is Lindsay does a really good job of organizing the offense. And I think our offense allows for a lot of people to do a lot of different things and operate well in their different niche.
So I think we do a good job of organizing that and people do a really good job of fulfilling their roles on the offensive end.
LINDSAY ALLEN: What Hannah said, I guess, I don't know. I think we're just a really smart team and willing to give up a good shot for an even better shot, and I think everyone on this team knows their roles and what they bring to this team. We're just really smart and unselfish.
Q. Being from the West Coast and California and being an hour and 45 minutes away from Stanford, any special thoughts about the Cardinal growing up?
HANNAH HUFFMAN: Yeah, I went to my fair share of Stanford games growing up. They're about 40 minutes from me, and they're kind of the big powerhouse on the West Coast. So I'd definitely go to their games. My best friend played on their team last year. I've definitely grown up liking Stanford and appreciating how incredible they've been and how successful they've been over the last couple years. It's kind of nice to see some West Coast representation between them and Washington, but at the end of the day, it's just another team and a game that we've got to win, so I'm looking forward to it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for the press conference for the Stanford women's basketball team. I'm joined by head coach Tara VanDerveer.
Q. I'm just wondering, the way that South Dakota State game ended, winning the way you all did, what's it done for the attitude of this team? You actually saw your life flash before your eyes and you live to tell about it?
COACH VANDERVEER: Playing (with) house money. We know that very easily we could be home. We know that there are a lot of great teams that would be -- not only did obviously we came very close, but there are a lot of great teams that would give their eyetooth to be sitting up here and to be playing here. So we are very excited to be here and really looking forward to playing Notre Dame.
Q. What has changed or improved for the rest of the Pac-12 for there to be four teams in the conference in the Sweet 16?
COACH VANDERVEER: I think honestly that the Pac- 12 this year, more than any year, it feels like it's not the four teams or the five teams that's were in the tournament, it's really the rest of the Pac-12 that is much, much stronger. There's not three or four teams here and then two or three teams down here. Every game was really a competitive game, I think as evidenced by Arizona State getting beaten by Cal at the Pac-12 Tournament. The close games that Washington State had or even for us playing Colorado at home is a tough game.
So I think it's really a deep conference from top to bottom, and I'm so excited that the teams -- we've had five teams win and four teams move on. Up until last night we were like 13-1 in all games, including WNIT games. But one of the things that I think precipitated a change I think is Pac-12 Network. That's a big game changer for us where more West Coast kids, even East Coast kids see the Pac-12. I think we have more games on than any other conference, and Pac-12 Network gives us great visibility. In the past maybe there's a couple games on and people didn't know about our teams or our players. But I think now they do. They get a chance to see not just the games, but they see the beautiful universities, the great academics, and it's just more visible.
Q. In general how do you think about the way you've played the first two rounds in this tournament and what are you going to need to do better to get past Notre Dame?
COACH VANDERVEER: I think we've been doing some really good things, but I really believe our best games are ahead. We will have to play better than we have played. We'll have to take care of the ball better against Notre Dame. I think we'll have to lock in defensively quicker against Notre Dame. We're going to need more and different people contributing. We've had different people play well for us all season long, but someone like Alanna Smith I think will have to step up. Marta (Sniezek) had a really good game against USF. But we're counting on some young players and we're going to need them to step up. But we're confident that they can. Brittany McPhee, Kailee Johnson, different players just coming out and really working hard and knocking down shots. I think the big part of being successful against Notre Dame is defending, obviously rebounding, taking care of the ball, and you have to knock down open shots.
I think one other thing in answer to your other question, the kind of survive and move on, that was a great -- our game was a great example of that. We very easily could be at home, but our team demonstrated, I think, some really great grit and resilience, and we got down and didn't give up. People just had a lot of confidence and kept making big plays.
Q. What did you learn from last year's game with Notre Dame specifically in terms of how to handle Lindsay Allen? She obviously had a big game against y'all last year. What did you learn about playing Notre Dame and what is it about her specifically that's tough to defend?
COACH VANDERVEER: I think Notre Dame is an excellent team, and it starts at the top. Muffet (McGraw) does an exceptional job. She is an outstanding coach. Her staff, everything. They just work extremely hard. I think their team is an extremely skilled team. Lindsay Allen is -- I don't know that there's really very many point guards that are better than her. She scores when they need her to score. She passes. She's a floor leader. She defends. And at every position I think they have real quality skilled players.
They play very well together. You can see that they're very well -- they come down and play with a purpose and they're an excellent team just through and through.
What did we learn? We knew that last year, but we saw it firsthand. You have to match their -- you have to be aggressive. You have to match their efficiency. They're an extremely efficient team. If you turn the ball over, if you take bad shots, which we did a little bit of both, I think you have to kind of really plan. You have to really defend people really well, try to take away their favorite things. But you can't take away everything because they have a lot of weapons inside and out.
I'm really glad we did play them last year because that helps our team in terms of familiarity, and it might help them, too, so hope for a better game.
Q. To follow up on that, what is different in the Bri(anna) Turner that you see on film now compared to the freshman that you faced?
COACH VANDERVEER: She's kind of the anchor to their team. When you have that kind of -- we've had it,
and I love it. Jayne Appel, Nnemkadi Ogwumike, and it goes back to Val Whiting. When you have that go-to player on the block that can basically score one-on- one, that kind of sets the table for everything else that you can do. So then that opens things up for a (Madison) Cable or (Marina) Mabrey or that opens up things for Lindsay Allen. But she scores, she passes. She runs the floor really well. She has great hands.
She's just a more mature player. I think she does a lot of little things that maybe helps their team a lot. Her screening, just her -- they played really a great pace. They don't rush, but they're playing with really good pace.
I mean, she's -- I don't think there is any doubt she's All-American. She's an All-American player because she's shoots a great percentage, touches the ball, takes care of the ball, rebounds, blocks shots, does it all.
Q. Coach, Erica McCall, one of the nation's leaders in double-doubles. What makes her so effective around the basket?
COACH VANDERVEER: If I were to look through women's basketball, if there was a Most Improved
Player award it would go to Erica McCall. She has taken her game -- as a freshman she played behind maybe Chiney and didn't play that much, but her scoring, her rebounding, she has improved so much. Obviously we love it. But her 3-point shot, her rebounding, and I think mostly her scoring. She's working on improving her passing and just her understanding of the game. But her development has been probably maybe the highest correlation between her development and our success. She has improved just tremendously. She then allows other people like Karlie Samuelson to get good shots because she finishes so well.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for the press conference for the Stanford women's basketball team. We're joined by Erica McCall, Karlie Samuelson and Lili Thompson.
Q. Lili, the last few days after the South Dakota State game, what was it like for you in terms of phone messages or anything that stuck out or anything you heard from fans or former players or anything like that?
LILI THOMPSON: Yeah, in terms of my family contacting me, that always happens. Everybody tells you good job or next time you'll get them. But in terms of fans, got a lot of followers, so that's on awesome.
And former players like Chiney, obviously who watched the game, just saying great job, keep playing. So it was pretty cool. Just glad we're still playing. I'm going to say I got like maybe 100 to 200 more followers.
Q. Stanford is second in the nation in field-goal percentage defense. What makes you so efficient on defense if you each could answer that?
LILI THOMPSON: A lot of blocks. I mean, she's a great paint presence, so I think that deters people from going too deep into the paint, and the guards try to do our job on the perimeter.
And we have a great counter for it. Every game, Tempie (Brown) and Kate (Paye) and Tara and Amy (Tucker) all come up with great plans on how we're going to defend each team. And I think our team is great at executing our defensive plan. It really helps us.
Q. Lili, what do you remember about last year's game with Notre Dame and how eager are you to kind of have a rematch to get another chance after what happened last season, or was that in your mind at all?
LILI THOMPSON: Not really looking at it so much as a rematch. Both teams are very different. Both teams have had different years this year. We want to continue playing and go far in this tournament. While obviously
it's the same teams as last year, I think both teams are in a different spot, so it will be about this game right here.
Q. For the first time in 13 years Stanford is without any seniors in the starting lineup. I know each of you are juniors. Do you feel any responsibility to step up regarding leadership?
KARLIE SAMUELSON: Yeah, I mean, I think we're a big part of the team as far as who is starting right now. But I think we take that challenge. I don't see us as being young. We're still upperclassmen. I think we do a good job of that, and we're excited for the next game, but we know we have another year left, but we're seen as the leaders of the team so we've got to step up.