NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament Friday Press Conference Quotes

2016 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship
First Round
Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, Ky.
Friday, March 19
Oklahoma, Purdue, Kentucky and UNC Asheville Quotes


NEWS CONFERENCE QUOTES – Oklahoma


Sherri Coale, Oklahoma Head Coach:


On her overall thoughts on the draw … 
“Well, the first thing, and where it always starts with our team is with gratitude to be in the field and to be in the bracket. We spent a lot more time talking about that than where or who. But once we knew our seed, we began to do research on Purdue and the message was they’re good. They’re really good. They play in a great league, they have good guards, they’re extremely well-coached and that’s a good opportunity for us because we will have to be the best version of ourselves in order to beat them. That was the message.” 

On players feeling extra motivated for the NCAA Tournament … 
“I think every time we go to the NCAA Tournament, we want to stay and play as long as we can. I don’t know if there is any extra juice or extra incentive, even the game before or the season before. It’s a tremendous opportunity to participate in the NCAA Tournament  and we count it as such, and we know that all kinds of things can happen, so we need to play as well as we possibly can together and this group of kids is driven as you heard our two student-athletes speak towards. They’re driven to play for each other and they’re enjoying the journey even though we only have one senior on this team, it will be a different team next year. Anytime you grow and mature as a group, it’s different. They’ve got this one last opportunity with Kay Kay in the NCAA (Kaylon Williams) Tournament so if there is a sense of urgency, or to borrow your phrase, some ‘extra juice’, it’s for that and extend the time that we play together.”

On what keeps her motivated as a seasoned head coach … 
“I just feel so old when you said that. There’s always a sense of excitement. I’ve never sat in front of a TV for the selection show and not been excited. I was as excited as I was in 2000 when we went for the first time. There is a rush, and that’s why we do it. To have this opportunity is why we do it. Every team is different, every season has a lifetime of its own and ours gets to continue and it never gets old.” 

On beating Purdue in 2000, on its home floor after winning the national title the year before … 
“That was huge. That’s one of my favorite memories. You have these opportunities, these hooks, that you kind of hang your heart on as you go along through your career – and that’s one of them. There was just this little bubble of Oklahoma in this big yellow gym and I think we were down 17 at halftime, and I remember sitting in that locker room and saying ‘I don’t know. I don’t know what happens in the next half, but let’s just play for Felicia Whaley.’ She was our senior and just such a mountain of a person and it is really her shoulder’s on which we built this program. I said just play for ‘P-Dub.’ That’s what we called her. Have the time of your life and whatever happens, happens. I think we took the lead with less than a minute left and won that game and it was unbelievable. There was a sea of people dressed in yellow who were very, very quiet and this little bitty bunch of people dressed in red losing our minds on the court – literally – there were probably 30 people from Oklahoma counting our team – in the gym and we just lost our minds. It was just one of those tremendous moments – and what I remember most about it, and I use this with my teams all the time, is the camera whet to Felicia after and they asked how did this happen, and she looked at them incredulously and said that we had been thinking we were going to be going to the Sweet 16 all year. She had played that so many times in her mind that it was so real to her. It was exciting, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary. She expected it. I think that’s sort of the turning point of our program, is the ability to see your expectation and your dream and the faith behind your dream come to fruition, and then suddenly you believe that anything can happen. I think it’s a tremendous memory for us, but I don’t think it has a single thing to do with the game tomorrow.” 

On what has improved the most with her team since the end of the Big 12 Tournament … 
“Our comfort level. We have a tremendous group of kids. I love coaching these kids, they are just awesome individuals, they come to work every day, they try so diligently. If they have an Achilles heel, it’s that they try too hard. What a great problem to have, right? But this past seven, eight days that we have had to practice for the NCAA Tournament, instead of preparing for the other people, it’s been about remembering who we are and why we love to play and who we can be together. It has lifted them and it’s been nice to see that joy come back. Sometimes whether pressure is real or perceived, pressure can sap that joy right out of the gym. We got it back, and I think they are truly remembering how much fun it is to play basketball. They want to continue to play with one another, so in that sense it’s been very freeing. We began our preparation for Purdue the moment that we knew that’s who our opponent was. They have kept that idea, that feeling.”

On the importance of her post play … 
“I’ve been really pleased with our post play this year. Kay Kay and Vionise Pierre-Louis are different from one another, but they have both been incredibly effective. I said before the season started that I thought that Vivi might be the most improved player not only on our team, but in our league. I think that proved to be true. She was recognized as the Sixth Man of the Year in the Big 12 Conference and I think she did deserve that and she earned that. She is a kid that hasn’t been playing basketball that long, and so she can improve pretty rapidly and she has this season. She scores atypically. There is a randomness about how she scores the basketball. Kay Kay is a really nice, polished post player with senior moves and it looks like she has been in the program for what looks like her fifth year because of an injury. They tag team for one another. Kay Kay has shown the tendency to get in foul trouble and Vivi comes in riding a horse to save the day. On occasion, the two of them have gotten in foul trouble, and then we have gotten in trouble. So they are very important to what we do.” 

On the progress of Gabbi Ortiz … 
“We would all so love to progress to be just this beautiful upward ascension. But, it’s not. Gabbi has had her struggles this season, and she would be the first to tell you. She is a tremendous competitor and she is a fantastic basketball player. She has spent a lot of time this sophomore season understanding the things she didn’t know that she didn’t know. There is a lot of aggression in the immediacy, but she has landed with her feet on the ground, gotten back up and gotten to where she wanted to be in the first place. I am so proud of this kid’s willingness to be stretched. We could have kept her in a safe little box and she would have been a pretty good college point guard, but instead we tore the walls down and she had to falter for a little bit. She will be a great one. I’m telling you right now she will be a great one. A great one. And she is on her way. She is tough, she competes, she loves her teammates, she loves the game and she is a kid who I think is bound for greatness. Is she there yet? Nope. But she is headed that way.”

Maddie Manning, Oklahoma Guard:


On experience of being in the NCAA Tournament …
“We are very thankful for the opportunity to be here and to continue playing. The big thing for our team is we just don’t want to be done playing together. These are 14 or 13 of my best friends and I don’t want the season to end with them. That’s where we are going right now.”

On what the team did during that time off …
“I think the week, week and a half that we had together with no games is really good for our team. We really worked on getting connected on both offense and defense, moving the ball a lot on offense, and getting to feel really good about everyone’s individual play but also playing together as a team before going into the tournament. “

On playing as a team …
“I just think that every year, even though you have a lot of the same people back, it’s a different feeling and it’s a different team. But, just your overall connectedness on the floor, both offense and defense, you kind of know what your teammates are going to do. You pick up on tendencies that your teammates like to do so obviously that and just creating that bond off the court and bringing that on to the court it makes you want to play for you teammates even more.”

On Purdue’s guards …
“I know their guard play is very strong. Especially those two, they kind of lead them, they kind of get them going. I know that’s going to be a good matchup for our guards, too. It’s going to be fun and it’s going to be a challenge. So we are looking forward to that.”

Kaylon Williams, Oklahoma Forward:


On the experience of being in the NCAA Tournament …
 “I’m just kind of taking in everything the tournament has to offer. Just being in different venues and taking advantage of all the opportunities, like Maddie said, to practice with each other and we’re just not ready for it to be over yet.”

On where you are as a team and how well you are playing …
“Just making sure that we grow together and making sure we work on things that we know are strengths for our team. Just making sure we have a really good feel on the floor together, and knowing where we are and where we are playing.”

On what the team did during their time off …
“We took the opportunity to work on a lot of little things that we didn’t really get to have the chance to pay attention to, whether it was working on how our wrists falls on our shots, or how our feet are when we are closing out and just working on little things that can help us create the big things that are go up for us as a team.”

On getting the ball inside and that being a strength for the team. …
“I think for us we’ve had size in the past with 6-foot-6 Nicole Griffin. With her graduating and between myself, Vionise and McKenna Treece we aren’t as tall but we try and use each other’s strengths as far as we have three different styles of post play that we can use in the paint. Playing inside-out for us, good things usually happen so just playing off of each other and using the bigs in the inside and the guards playing off of us in the inside and taking advantage of the paint, I think that’s a positive thing that we use this year.”

NEWS CONFERENCE QUOTES – Purdue


Sharon Versyp, Purdue Head Coach:


On what concerns her the most about Oklahoma … 
“I think the student-athletes answered that very well because those are things we’ve discussed. You just don’t want to allow some some of their players to knock down some 3s. We played Oklahoma in 2009 to get to the Final Four and we tried to take the 3s away as much as we could. It’s very similar. They have inside presence and they have outside presence. But we got to make sure we do a good job that way, and then transition defense is always something. But the biggest thing at the end of the day is rebounding. You’ve got to rebound, offensively and defensively.” 

On the team’s interior defense now as compared to earlier in the season … 
“You hope you continue to improve over 30-some games. We are very, very young in the post but I thought our growth has been immense. I think our young ones have really done a great job of understanding our concepts and that’s just great development on their part and our coaching staff’s part. It’s tough because they are going against a fifth-year senior down low that has that experience. Defense is collective. Bottom line it’s not one person shutting somebody down it’s team defense. We just have to follow game plan and do the best that we can and make sure we execute the little things. It’s not about the big things.”

On what she remembers about recruiting Oklahoma’s Gabbi Ortiz and her play now … 
“Everybody in the country wanted her and it came down to us and Oklahoma. She’s a heady player, she’s heart and soul personality, energy, giver. Her freshman year was outstanding. Now as a sophomore she continues to do well, runs the team, can shoot the ball and score. She’s that type of point guard you want for your program and she will continue to grow this season and her junior and senior year. Sherri (Coale) and I were talking about her earlier at the meeting. She’s a special kid.” 

On when the culture changed in the offseason and her team was back to its old ways … 
“I think when you take everything away from them and they don’t get anything. they didn’t get Purdue gear, they have their locker room, they didn’t get anything and had to take care of themselves for a while. They knew they needed that. I think when everybody came back in June we set the tone immediately that if anybody slips up everything is taken away again so they lived that way for three months. Felt it right away. I think these three seniors did a fantastic job cultivating the culture that we’ve always had at Purdue and then I think they’ve embraced the freshmen. This freshman class brings a different type of energy and personality. They just are eager to learn and they always play for their seniors and we got that back this year. I felt it in June but when we went to Italy in August, that was the best thing that could have happened for this team.”

On playing with an edge after a two-week break from the Big 10 Tournament …
“Obviously the plan is we still have that edge because we were not very happy how that Michigan State game went. That’s still a bad taste in our mouth. It’s up to us being out there. We’re just not here because we are in the NCAA Tournament, we definitely are playing with an edge and we played with an edge the last five games. No question. We have to be tougher and we have to be more physical.”

On what gave her confidence to take things away from the team…
“We didn’t have any other choice. We had to make something happen. So, I went back to old school and the kids wanted it. You don’t think kids want discipline and that structure but they know this is something that they needed to do and deserve it. So, how they embraced it and we approached it that this isn’t acceptable what happended last year and we need to change it. That’s not why they came to Purdue. Again, I think it was the players who returned really embraced their backs are up against a wall so let’s see how you respond.”

On her team’s depth entering the NCAA Tournament …
“This is the healthiest we’ve been so we’re pretty excited. We’ve had some kids with concussions out for games that we had starters that were out. Hayden Hamby was out for like 14 games as a senior which was so detrimental to our guard depth this year that our kids got really worn down. Torrie Thornton has always had some knee issues, she’s a fifth-year senior coming back, and she’s very healthy. You always have certain things that are occurring but the major injuries are healed now so that’s why I felt in the Big 10 Tournament we played some incredible ball because we had the depth that we needed.”

On Bridget Perry’s game in the Big 10 Tournament …
“I think she finally relaxed and let the game come to her. She is such a versitale player. She can score outside, she can attack the hole, she’s a hard matchup. She’s 6-foot-3 and a lefty. She’s difficult to guard. I think she just got back to doing the little things. She and (Andreona) Keys are our best rebounders and we have to have Bridget rebounding. She’s been a key to our success all year but when she can really knock down that 15-foot shot or knock down that 3 especially when people play a zone that’s what she was able to give us and it was good for her confidence to get back up on the saddle and perform that way.”

Ashley Morrissette, Purdue Guard:


On the strengths of this year’s edition of the Boilermakers?
“I would definitely say that this year’s Boilermakers have improved on defense and on offense. Last year we had multiple times where scoring droughts would occur, and we wouldn’t score for five or so minutes. I believe that this year we have definitely improved on that, and also this year’s defense has definitely improved. I believe we had a streak of nine games that we held an opponent to 60 points or below.”

On controlling the anxiousness of the first five minutes of the game...
“We’re definitely excited to play. We just want to make sure we go out with focus and control in this game. It is the first game of the NCAA Tournament for us, so we’re just going to try and control the things we can control and execute the game plan.”

On how the team rebounded so quickly from an uncharacteristic year...
“We did put a lot of work in on the court, in the gym and in the weight room. But we also put in a lot of work off the court. Multiple team-building exercises. Just getting to know each other better; getting to know the freshmen better. Embracing everybody better than we did last year.”

On what concerns them about Oklahoma...
“Their whole team scores. Like eight-to-12 points is their season average I believe. So they’re looking to get the ball into the post and more to No. 42 (Kaylon Williams) and to No. 0 (Vionise Pierre-Louis). Their guards are a constant threat.”

April Wilson, Purdue Guard:


On the strengths of this year’s edition of the Boilermakers...
“I think that our defense has enhanced. Everybody has been a threat to score, and I think that’s what we lacked last year. No one was a threat. Now, we’re catching triple threats and are ready to shoot at all times. Our transition offense has also increased and gotten better.”

On how the Big 10 season helped prepare them for the NCAA tournament...
“Our conference is tough from top to bottom. It’s anybody’s game on any given night. It’s very physical. You just have to be strong at all times. I think that our conference from top to bottom has helped us a lot.”

On controlling the anxiousness of the first five minutes of the game...
“During practice the last two weeks we have done game situations to prepare us. We’ve scrimmaged our guys and scrimmaged each other to prepare us for those first five minutes because we know they’re extremely tough.”

On returning to the NCAA Tournament as a senior...
“It’s awesome. Obviously, last year was not a season that Purdue is used to. To be able to flip it around and change the culture of our team and get back to the NCAA, which is what we’re used to, is a great feeling. I’m glad I got here my senior year.”

On how many family members will come from Louisville?
“It’s about an hour and 15. I just know my family right now. I’m not sure who else is coming, but it will be great to see hometown people.”

On what they will do to try and extend their stay in the NCAA Tournament?
“I think you just have the same mentality that we did during conference play. It’s an us-against-the-world mentality. Obviously, we’re on the road, but just trusting the scout, trusting your coaches and staying tight as a team. I think we need to stay calm and instill that in your freshmen to play confident just like they did in conference play. All the pieces will fall together.”

On how the team rebounded so quickly from an uncharacteristic year...
 “It started in postseason back in April. As soon as our season ended we had those two weeks off and we were right into postseason. I’m not going to lie. It was the hardest postseason I’ve had in my four years and hardest summer I’ve had. All they did was run us. All we did is work. Our motto is, ‘nothing is given’ because obviously it is true. All we did was put in the work and we stopped doing the talking and we started doing the walk. Once you put in the work, it started to benefit on the court.”

On what concerns them about Oklahoma...
“We know they like to get the ball inside, and all of their guards are always a threat to shoot, so it’s about making their guards put it down on the floor. No open looks. No easy open looks and not allowing them to get inside so easily.”


NEWS CONFERENCE QUOTES – Kentucky


Matthew Mitchell, Kentucky Head Coach:


On what he told the players that helped them circle the wagon after players transferred and a three-game losing streak  … 
“I really felt like this season started about this time last year. This time last year the seniors came to me and said that I was going to have to lead the team going forward into the last week of the season and into whatever postseason opportunities we had because we had a breakdown in our culture and things weren’t going the way they needed to go. I was really grateful that the seniors did that. They could have taken a pass on that and it would have been harder for me to figure out what was going on. So, after the season we just wanted to recommit to our core values and the things we want to be about at Kentucky. Things like honesty, a strong work ethic, hard work, having a disciplined program, having players that are coachable, having players that will hold each other accountable and hold themselves accountable and then players who that will be resilient. So we really have broken it down into six things we are trying to have at Kentucky and we talked about that and we tried to make that come to life each and every day since last season ended. I feel like those things have come alive in our program and so through all the things that happened, all the departures, all the inexperience we had to deal with, the three-game losing streak was really, really difficult and really we lost four out of five. There was stretch there where we just didn’t play well and through all that I feel like we’ve come out on the other side and those things that we are emphasizing in our program that we believe can stay with these players long after they get done playing basketball is really the point of having a program like that for it to benefit them now and after they leave. I really feel like those things have come to the forefront and watching them really come together as a team is something that has been just tremendously fun and gratifying. Janee said about 15 times she’s ready to play and I think they are ready and they are ready to play their best basketball of the season. It will be fun to watch and I believe it will happen and hope it does happen because they’ve put a lot into this season.” 

On how he erases the bad play against South Carolina in the SEC Tournament...
“Really, you just don’t think about it. You don’t dwell on it when you have a team you feel is giving you everything they have. It’s a long season and basketball is a funny game. Some days it’s your third game in three days and you have to have some perspective. It was not a typical situation and South Carolina had not made more than five 3s and I was trying to get the team to rise to the occasion and win the game. It was a poor game plan probably so it was just as much my fault as anybody’s. So, I just told them if you look through 30 games and 23-7 and how we got there and how we did it, you just can’t let one afternoon, one two-hour period when we were not at our best, you can’t concern yourself or dwell on that. There are definitely lessons that we need to learn from the game. We had four days off totally where the players were able to catch their breath. We came back and we really said this was a new season. The conference tournament is grueling and very different than this tournament because everyone starts at the same spot and everybody has equal amount of rest and all that kind of thing. That was not difficult to bounce back from that game. South Carolina is a really good team. They are one of the best teams in the country, they are very talented and they played really hard that day. We were not very good that day and so we didn’t dwell on that game.”

On how he has kept his team loose and motivated after the SEC Tournament … 
“There’s tension always as a coach of where to push and where to be patient. It’s really a thought I’ve had for a long time as I have tried to grow as a coach and that idea of when do you push them and when are you patient with them. I had to get that figured out with this team and I got some great advice on a couple of fronts. One was when we were struggling so badly I needed to get positive. What we decided was in areas of attitude and effort and things you are in control of, we’re just always going to push. And we’re going to push you hard and not tolerate a bad attitude or negative outlook. So, if I’m not going to tolerate a negative outlook from them, I certainly can’t have one. The bye week between LSU and Vanderbilt really helped me gain some perspective because I was able to get a couple of days away and really try to see where my mindset was and then come back and say if your attitude is bad or your effort is bad we are going to push you toward a good attitude and great effort. Then, in terms of areas of experience and aptitude or talent or strength. Say Maci Morris, who is a freshman and who is just not as strong as she is going to be as a junior or senior, I’ve got to have some patience. Evelyn Akhator doesn’t understand sometimes or read a screen correctly but that’s not because her attitude or effort is bad, it’s because she doesn’t know. I try to be patient with the players and try to teach better and do all of that as a coach with a great attitude and my best effort every day. I think that helped us get into a good mindset and finally, I was really unhappy with them after the LSU game and we came back and put those thoughts forward and they responded on a Wednesday and a Thursday when we only worked on ourselves and we didn’t have to play a game that night. I felt like we turned a corner when I finally just said I’m going to trust you are going to give it everything you have. The kids have worked hard and we’ve done it with a really inexperienced team. I just stopped fussing so much at them and started trying to model what I was asking them to do. It’s been a great experience with them. They have worked extremely hard. I give them the credit. It’s been fun to come to practice every day. It created a great atmosphere around the team. If you’re not a head coach walking around worried about if someone is going to take a shortcut here or if someone is going to goof off here or miss curfew here and you’re sort of tense all the time waiting on the next bad thing to happen, you can loosen up and have some fun.”

On the advantage of playing in Lexington?
“We have to make sure we take advantage of it. I’m in a situation where I have to keep them focused on Asheville. Asheville is a very, very aggressive team and they have taken on the personality of their coach. Brenda is a really great competitor. She’s always exhibited that on the recruiting trail. When you’re out in the summer evaluating talent you can always tell when people are taking it easy or taking their job seriously. What she’s done with that program is really amazing. Just look at the progression, six wins, nine wins and now you’re at 26 wins, so they are a very hard-working, scrappy team that can score points and get to the free-throw line and so I have to work really hard to make sure our focus is on winning tomorrow because none of it matters if we don’t. We certainly want people to be excited here in town for the opportunity to have such high-level basketball. These are some great teams in here. Asheville is a champion of their conference and a really good basketball team. Oklahoma and Purdue have both been to Final Fours and Purdue is a national championship program. Whoever fills out the regional, we just have a great opportunity living in this city to watch some great basketball over the next two weeks. For us to be a part of that would just be amazing from my standpoint. I’m so proud that our administration has supported women’s basketball and this has the potential to be a really great thing for women’s basketball, for all the schools participating and has great potential for our city, too. I want people to be excited but I’ve got to make sure our team gets excited about UNC Asheville so we can get excited about Monday and then if we get to Monday we need to take care of that so we can get excited about next weekend. We can’t get too far ahead right now. We need to work hard to take advantage of it.”

On how much he has had to use his marketing skills to increase interest for the tournament?
“It’s all hands on deck right now. Everybody is working hard at our university to try and make sure it’s a first-class event. We have tried to get the word out. I’ve tried to get my robocall in there in between Hillary (Clinton), Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and their robocalls. I had a great robocall and I hope you guys got it and went out and bought some tickets. Hopefully that helps. I’ve gone on every radio show, podcast and television show that we have, trying to get the word out. We’ve always had great support here the past couple of years. We’ve had great crowds and I expect that we will have great crowds. I do want to be engaged in this. It’s a great sense of responsibility for this to be successful. You can’t imagine how grateful I am that our university stepped up and made the commitment to host the first and second round and also bid for the regional. No matter what happens, I and all of us at Kentucky are very invested in the next two weekends going great. The game deserves a great venue and a great atmosphere. We are going to work like heck no matter what happens to make sure we can do everything we can to impact that in a positive way.”

Makayla Epps, Kentucky Guard:


On the advantage of playing more home games …
“I would say anybody in the country would rather play at home than get on the road and travel. But like you said, for us to have the opportunity to potentially play four home games, that’s just really big and we are excited. We were really excited when we saw our name under the Lexington region and especially for Janee because she will get more games in Memorial. Playing in front of the Big Blue Nation, the best fans in the country, whenever they get to go into Memorial, it’s hard to beat. “

On losing after an eight-game winning streak and if that has been in the team’s discussion …
“That game didn’t define our season. Our season didn’t end after that game. Before that we were on an eight-game winning streak so we know what we’re capable of and we know what Kentucky’s capable of, and we know how to play our best and we’ve showed that numerous times over the season. Just that one game didn’t go our way, so like I said, it’s a new season. We’ve got one game ahead of us tomorrow against UNC Asheville and I am excited for that one.”

On takeaways from the conference tournament that can help in this tournament … 
“We’ve got a lot of young players on the team that got a lot of valuable minutes in the conference tournament that I feel is going to help our team overall in the NCAA tournament. I don’t look at our freshmen as freshmen anymore. You know, we’ve got freshmen playing big time minutes, we’ve got freshmen starting, we’ve got freshmen who have helped us win more games than not. So, we are a team right now and I feel like that will help us going into the NCAA tournament.”

Janee Thompson, Kentucky Point Guard:


On the opportunity to play potentially three more home games …
“I am just really excited we got the opportunity again to play in Memorial in front of our fans. I’ll continue to say it, they love us; we have some of the best fans in the country so it’s really excited for me to be back out there with my teammates. We are just approaching this game like we need to approach any game and that’s playing hard and hustling and hopefully that will get us the win.”

On losing after an eight-game winning streak and if that has been in the team’s discussion …
“The SEC tournament was heartbreaking for a lot of us, but we didn’t feel like we played the way we should have in that game. At this point, coaches told us that we have a new season so it’s been easy for us to mentally put that behind us and start fresh. All the teams are on an even playing field right now. We’ve all had a lot of time off and a lot of time to prepare so we think that we are ready for this game tomorrow. We are excited to play.”

On takeaways from the conference tournament that can help in this tournament … 
“Pretty much what Makayla said; I think the experience was good for a lot of our younger players. That type of competitive atmosphere when there is a lot on the line, so, I am confident in our team and we are ready to go. It feels like it’s been so long and a lot of us are itching to play again.”

On their early turmoil in the season and how that helps the team now …
“That’s the reason why we are a team right now and why we are so together. We continue to say it because there was a lot we had to go through with losing some players and we hit some walls and we hit some adversity but we were able to come out on the other side. I think we are peaking at the right time. There’s no better time than in March and we are ready to play.”

NEWS CONFERENCE QUOTES – UNC Asheville


Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick, UNC Asheville Head Coach:


On how rewarding it is to be in the NCAA tournament..
“I took the head coaching job at UNC Asheville four years ago in May of 2012. It was a program that needed a lot of work in terms of recruiting quality players who could compete in the Big South for a championship, and also a culture shift in terms of mentality in learning how to compete. The progression has actually been, I know somebody mentioned six wins, we never did get six that first year. We got to two, and those were non-Division I wins. So we went winless as far as Division I games are concerned in my first year. We were 2-28 and then we were like 11-20 or 11-19 something like that, and last year we were 9-22. And then to go to 26-6 this year currently. To see it being built from the ground up so to speak is rewarding because not just myself but every single player who has been on all four of those rosters has put in work and the staff members I’ve had on my staff. Some of them are still here; some of them have come and gone, but all of the combined collective work that has been put in to really building a program that might have been at the very bottom of Division I. That’s rewarding to me. It doesn’t mean you get complacent or satisfied because we didn’t take the job at UNC Asheville to take it to the top and not sustain success. And that takes recruiting and continuing to do what we’ve been doing in the process. So sticking to the process and not just making it a one-time thing. In a one bid league, it’s tough to go to the NCAA every year, but we really have committed at UNC Asheville to be competitive in the Big South from year to year.”

On how challenging it has been in reaching those rewards...
“Extremely. In particular, looking at that first year to keep those kids going out on the court and just competing and putting a competitive product on the floor that wasn’t quitting every night, that was difficult. There have been a lot of challenges. At the same time that makes success that much more rewarding. You’re rarely going to accomplish anything that you’re not going to hit several bumps in the road and several obstacles. But there have been a lot of good things. So many quality student-athletes, even like I said that weren’t on winning teams, have been a joy to be around. The way I look at UNC Asheville in those first three years there were a lot of players that I inherited that stuck around. It wasn’t a situation that we came in and changed faces in the locker room very quickly. In year three, we still had seven players on the roster that were inherited. So we were seven and seven. So to do it that way, which I believe is the right way, those kids chose UNC Asheville and I chose UNC Asheville but those kids in those first few years didn’t all choose me to be their coach. I’ve been in a situation before where there has been a coaching change. It’s been important to me that we’ve been all a family regardless of who recruited who. That we were all a family. That we’ve all had UNC Asheville on our chest.”

On any concerns about their first time getting to the tournament and a deer-in-headlight mentality...
“Yes. Absolutely there are concerns. Practice was pretty intense this week. To the degree that you can you try to bring that intensity. I’m pretty intense as a coach anyway but really try to explain to the girls what it’s going to be like. It’s really hard to replicate that or imitate that experience until they walk out there tomorrow to warm up. They know that Kentucky has some of the best basketball attendance in the nation. That’s great. I told our kids the very first day of practice that we want that. We want that as a challenge for us, but we want that for Kentucky women’s basketball and for the game of women’s basketball. I would be disappointed if there is not 6,500 Big Blue in the stands tomorrow. That’s not going to be a good experience. That’s why we went to the top seeds so that we could have that experience for women’s basketball. So they’re expecting that, but expecting it and actually going through it are two different things.”

On what she remembers from her times playing Kentucky when she was an assistant at Florida...
“When I was a coach at Florida we played them twice every year. We did come up here all five years. I’m at least familiar with the facility, familiar with Coach (Matthew) Mitchell’s style of play. We were watching him kind of grow that program a little bit in our first years at Florida. It wasn’t a top 25 program to my knowledge. They may have gotten in the top 25 a couple of times in those first few years. By the time I left Florida, they had built that program up to where it is now. It’s a very intense style of basketball. I love the way they play. They’ve been playing that way. They are a reflection of who he is. He is an intense competitor. I’ve always liked Matthew. I’ve always respected him. I’ve known him a little bit more through the eyes of Amanda Butler because both of them have Florida ties. That’s kind of helped me as well get to know him a little bit better. What he’s done here is remarkable. Especially under the pressure of having to get it done here. That’s the expectation at Kentucky is that basketball, not just men’s basketball, but women’s basketball is going to mirror that. So he’s done that under a lot of pressure and adversity. He’s built that program up.”

On the parity in women’s basketball...
“I’d agree with you. I think there has been a little more parity. It’s not to the degree of parity that is present in the men’s game yet. I think kids, this generation, want to go and be a part of something, a part of building something. If you can speak about that within your program, which is something that I’ve been doing, it helps them see themselves instead of joining something it’s, ‘Hey, I can make a difference.’ At the same time you want to balance that with it’s a team effort. It’s not just about you the individual. But I think that helps. Kids are a little more willing to do something like that to go make a name of themselves. That’s helped women’s basketball in terms of parity. I know there is a lot of parity within the Big South. I’m on the WBCA voting for the top 25. I know voting every week it takes me a bit of time to look down. There’s so many wins and losses that are changing within that top 25 outside of maybe the top three. So it is nice to see that that there’s a lot of competitive teams out there. I hope young ladies will continue to play women’s basketball. I know we were losing a few people here and there to soccer and volleyball. Because basketball is a phenomenal sport, and if we have more people developing at grass roots, than we are going to have more parity. Because there are plenty of opportunities out there for people to go play college basketball and be competitive. So I think that’s helping as well.”

On what made her say she was ready to take on the challenge of the UNC Asheville coaching job...
“I don’t know if I thought I was ready for it. I had been coaching at Florida for five years. I had been working under Amanda Butler for seven because I was at UNC Charlotte with her for two years. I felt a push that fifth year. I loved my job. I loved working for Coach Butler; a phenomenal person who was really good to me and really let me get my hands in a lot of things within the program. And I loved being a Gator. I know that’s hard for some people around here to hear, but I loved being in Gainesville, Fla. What an awesome place. But I felt spiritually a push. Something was going on in that fifth year, and it started occurring to me that I might not be here next year. A little bit strange. There were a lot of Division I coaching jobs open that year, but when UNC Asheville was available, and then I got that call from Janet Cone that was actually the day after we lost to Baylor in the second round of the NCAA’s that year. I got into the office about 8:30 that next morning and Janet’s message, our athletic director, she had left me a voice mail. I thought, huh. Asheville is 30 minutes from where I grew up. It’s a beautiful place to live. You couldn’t live in a better city. I don’t know if you’ve visited there or spent time there. It’s a destination city. A lot of people go for weddings and for vacations. There’s that and it’s such a neat little university. Man, it’s got great academics. It’s really close in proximity to downtown. It’s just a great niche for me. I went to Wake Forest University, so I was comfortable with that type of academic situation and the size of the school. Obviously, the athletics weren’t the same as far as level of play. But there was a lot of those factors, but it was still very hard. I knew there were a lot of challenges there, and it wasn’t going to be an easy job. But at the same time I really felt like that was where God was leading me to go.”

On what she knows about the Kentucky program ...
“What he’s done with this team and the youth on this team is incredible. Just to echo what some of the players were saying, they are incredible in transition. You have to stop the ball because off of your misses they are going to push hard and off of your makes they are going to push hard. They do a really good job of outing in quickly and capitalizing off of that. Secondly, they’re rebounding. They have four post players. A nice four post player rotation and they play hard. Those post players do not take plays off. If they’re not working you to get position of the ball, they’re in the high post and they are diving for a rebound. You can’t over help. Their guards are great, but the post players, our bigs, can’t over help to help on penetration because when that shot goes up we’re not getting that rebound. They are. They are going to get the offensive rebound. So our guards are really going to have to do a good job at containing a first team All-SEC player in Makayla Epps and then Janee Thompson – incredible. Taylor Murray is very good as a freshman. Maci (Morris) is also very good. We’ve got our hands full to be honest with you. We’ve got to limit turnovers and take good shots because again that’s going to lead to easy buckets if we’re not executing and not handling their half court pressure. I will say this in just watching their progression, their defense, their half court defense is really stingy. They’re going to make you work. We’re going to have to set some screens and protect our point guards and change things up a little bit offensively to get the ball in the basket because we’re used to scoring a lot of points. That’s what we did well in the conference. I think we were in the top two in our conference in scoring. They’re going to try and take that away from us. They’re going to be physical. They’re going to try to impose their will quickly on us. We get all that. As they should. They should try to set tone. There is no question that Coach Mitchell is telling them that you’ve better show them whose house this is quickly and put your foot down. And our kids can’t waste. If they waste two or three minutes going whoa, then we’ve lost our opportunity to do what she was asking about to really display who we are as a basketball team. It’s not necessarily about the score or the result. It really is if you start thinking about how overwhelming that experience is you lose your opportunity to play your best basketball. Is that going to be good enough to beat Kentucky? I think some other things would have to go our way. I really do. I think some luck would have to play in. If they are playing their best game, that’s going to be hard. But at the same time we want to see what our best game is like against Kentucky. Let’s not get overwhelmed by that experience so we don’t get a chance to find out.”

Paige Love, UNC Asheville Guard:


On her team’s strengths …
“The season itself has been amazing, but if I would have to characterize some strengths I would say that this team truly is a family. We truly love each other. We are truly supportive of each other through everything on and off the court. We also have really focused on this word the ‘process’ and I think that’s really got us here today. I really think that’s a really strength for us because not all teams focus on that. We really took each game, game-by-game, possession-by-possession and really came together down the stretch and have just had a phenomenal season and I am so proud of these girls. We just truly love each other. The chemistry on the court is amazing from Coach Mock down to the last person on the bench so, it’s been great.”

On if the “process” has elevated the season to what it is now…
“I think that it goes back to, yeah we have been focusing on the ‘process’ this season, but it’s been a process since my freshman year, since these girls came in and truly just rebuilding each year, getting better each year. This year, I would really say that us coming together and playing unselfishly, us building this chemistry that we have - the girl to my right (Chatori Major), having a phenomenal year, MVP and Player of the Year - it’s truly just been team basketball. Whenever we win the big games, the spread is everyone is in the box score, everybody’s contributing, so yeah I think the season has been exploding but I think it has been built up to that point. Coach Mock has done a great job of us really valuing being a good teammate and I think that relays in everything we talked about with chemistry, hard work, focusing on the ‘process’ and she’s done a great job in instilling that in all of us girls.”

On what she wants the audience to know about the Bulldogs …
“Me personally, I would want announcers, fans, anybody in the crowd to know that the Asheville Bulldogs came to play and that regardless of the score, we are going to stay together, we are going to play with a heck of a lot of effort, we are going to be the first ones on the ground, we’re going to have a positive attitude, our bench energy is going to be insane, all of the things that got us to this point and that people have noticed and what makes us special – a lot of people have told us that we are a very special team and that’s because of everything they see in us from our love for each other for our support for our staying together. We hit a low spot roughly toward the end of this season dropping a game to Campbell at home and we had an important team meeting and came together and talked about what made us special and really getting back to those points. So, if I have to say from an announcer’s point, I want you to be saying that KJ Weaver is taking a charge. Chatori Major is taking it to the basket, finishing with contact and then that bench is going crazy.”

On a word that describes the season …
“Legacy.”

Chatori Major, UNC Asheville Guard:


On building up the big games …
“I am going to use this word again, the ‘process.’ I really think that is key to what we have done this year. We really do take everything step-by-step and that has gotten us to where we are right now.”

On seeing the benefit of the “process” …
“It has definitely been a year. I couldn’t have asked for a better year, better teammates and yeah, it’s been fun.” 

On this week’s preparation and if it’s been normal …
“I’d like to say that it has been a pretty normal week. We have done our same routines, scouting, practicing, and focusing on what we need to do in order to play a good game. Also, traveling here five hours. That wasn’t in the every day schedule but it’s been a pretty normal week.”

On if the trip to Lexington was one of their longest trips of the season …
“No, it’s not. We actually went to Liberty. Liberty is further than getting here and Longwood. There have been a few five-hours trips in our pocket.”

On one word that describes the season …
“Unique.”

KJ Weaver, UNC Asheville Center: 


On the “process” and what that means…
“The ‘process’ is taking everything step-by-step. Where your feet are is where we are right now. This is the present. Don’t focus on the past, don’t focus on the future, focus on the now and that’s really what the ‘process’ is all about. So, we need to get this defensive stop no matter how down we are and we need to get this next basket no matter how high we are. So, it’s just keeping that level and focusing on where we are right here, right now.”

On her familiarization with Kentucky’s style …
“We know they are a really good transition team so one of our main focuses is transition defense and hopefully locking down some of their key players. Another goal for us, because we know we have to play one of our best games to win, is less turnovers than we have ever had before and patience with the ball.”

On a word that describes the season …
“Phenomenal.”