• January 28, 2022

Oklahoma Coach Sherri Coale: 2010 NCAA Final Four Media Teleconference

March 31, 2010

Thank you, Rick.  I appreciate it.  Our basketball team is incredibly honored to have earned the right to participate in the Final Four in San Antonio, and we are very much looking forward to it after the hospitality that we experienced in San Antonio in 2002.  We know what a fantastic job the city does in welcoming the NCAA championship and we can’t wait to get there and compete. And just really, really proud of this bunch of kids and looking forward to the opportunity.

Q.  I wanted to ask you kind of big picture, obviously first time the Big 12 has managed to get two teams to the Final Four, and I know all the time you coaches are always talking about how great the conference is, and obviously it is.  But from a national standpoint, does this really kind of help underline the fact that particularly this year the Big 12 is really tough considering that Nebraska won the regular season and A&M won the tournament but two other teams are in the Final Four?
COACH COALE:  I think if there were any doubters out there as to the difficulty of our league, they’ve been made believers by just what’s happened.  I don’t know how you can look at that and not realize the depth and parity within our league.
And I think what we face on a Wednesday/Saturday basis in the Big 12 conference is what enables two teams like Baylor and ourselves to fight through the NCAA tournament and end up in the Final Four competition that we face regularly prepares us.

Q.  Also wanted to ask you, we talked to Tara and Geno about this, but I guess Jim Delany, the Big Ten commissioner, said he thinks it’s probable that the men’s will expand to 96.  That’s something that’s been talked about quite a bit.  Do you think if the men’s tournament expands to 96, is there a reason for the women’s tournament to expand?  Are there enough teams deserving to be in a 96 team women’s field if it gets to that?
COACH COALE:  No, we’re not ready for it.

Q.  Your team’s been playing real well late in the season, had a good run through the conference tournament.  But, in any sense, are you surprised you guys are here?
COACH COALE:  No, absolutely not.  Love this bunch.  They’ve believed from day one.  Nothing they do has surprised me ever, on a daily basis or in the process of a game, putting games together.
We were talking as a staff I’m not sure we lost two games in a row all year.  We justwe had the Connecticut Nebraska stretch there in our season, but other than that we’ve played incredibly tough competition and been able to rebound and turn ourselves around.
So this group has a special resolve about them.  So, no, no surprise here.

Q.  Stanford’s a pretty familiar tournament opponent for you as a coach and your staff, but does this Stanford team look like some of the other ones you’ve played?  Is this a familiar system?
COACH COALE:  Yes, they’re big and skilled and smart and, I must add, very well coached.

Q.  I ask this kind of in jest, but do you think you guys will make the Final Four when Connecticut is not on an undefeated run coming into the Final Four at the same time?
COACH COALE:  I probably owe you an answer about Stanford from last night.  I apologize about that.  You know, I don’t know.  I don’t know.  Somebody’s gotta beat Connecticut, somebody has got to stop the madness at some point.  And I don’t know if it really matters if they’re undefeated or not.  They seem to always be in the Final Four and they seem to always find their way into the championship game.
I don’t know what our tournament would do without them.  Since I’ve been coaching, I think they’ve been in it but one year maybe.  Maybe two.  One.
I don’t know.  They’re really good and they’re playing really well right now.

Q.  I’m working on a story about Amanda Thompson.  Strikes me that she has this kind of you talked about her being an old soul and the heart of a lion.  Just talk about she’s been through a lot in terms of the shoulder problems and just how she’s grown up at Oklahoma and the type of player she is right now.
COACH COALE:  Well, Amanda will be the first to tell you there isn’t anything that happens on the basketball court that’s really hard for her because of just things she’s had to experience and get through in her life.  This is a Bowl.  This is a game.  While things may be challenging, nothing’s really hard.  And I think that is revealed in the way that she plays.
She is as sincere of a kid as I’ve ever worked with, just incredibly coachable, a sponge.  Wants to learn, wants to work, wants to get better.  Wants to do the right thing.  And where she has really grown I think is in her ability to lead people.  She came here.  She wanted to do the right thing all the time.  But she didn’t necessarily want to demand it of everybody around her.

She was of the mindset I’m going to take care of my business and what you do is entirely up to you.  And so sometimes teaching kids to learn how to demand the same from the people around them as they demand from themselves is as tough as anything.  Kids fight that sometimes. A.T. didn’t.  It was hard for her.  But she didn’t fight it and she’s become an exceptional leader on our team.

Q.  Sherri, you had the opportunity to play Baylor three times a year, twice during the regular season and once in the championship.  What did you see out of Brittney Griner?  Could you give us a scouting report, what you expect?
COACH COALE:  As impactful as she is on the offensive end, it’s the defensive end where I think she makes the biggest difference.

I think we can all put together some schemes to keep the ball away from really, really talented post players.  I shouldn’t say keep the ball away, but to minimize the touches of really talented post players, whether you sag or you double or you go on a catch or you go on the bounce or you zone.  There’s a million different things you can do.
That doesn’t mean you’re going to keep her from scoring baskets.  You can minimize and maybe neutralize a little bit.  On the defensive end it’s a conundrum, because she can stand in the middle of a lane and block your shock outside the elbow.  And I’m not exaggerating, there’s no hyperbole there.  It’s really, really hard to get to the basket.

So at the end of the day to beat Baylor, you’re going to have to make some outside shots.  And you’re going to have to not turn the ball over and you’re going to have to not be impacted emotionally and mentally once you block shots, because until you’ve been on the floor with it, it’s a really, really hard thing to handle.  And the first time we played against them, it took us by surprise.

And, you know, you prepare for it.  You watch film.  You test out if you’re tall and you try to replicate it as best you can.  And you just can’t.  And the more we were on the floor with it, the better I think we got at dealing with her defensive presence.  But it’s a different deal.

Q.  You had a chance to play UConn earlier in the season.  Is there anything you’ve seen from that team watching the film, heading into the Final Four, lately that gives your team a better idea of what to do to try to defeat them?
COACH COALE:  Again, I think there’s no substitute for being on the floor with your foe.  There’s maybe a mystique that can be dismantled.  There’s the confidence that grows from being on the floor with an opponent.  So I think maybe experience is the best teacher there.

Q.  This Final Four is a homecoming for Lyndsey Cloman.  Can you just talk about how she’s grown this season and the contributions that she’s made to your team?
COACH COALE:  Yeah, you know, Lyndsey is like most freshmen when they come into college and they’ve played every minute of their high school careers and they’ve been the go to and the horse that their team has ridden.

She doesn’t get to play very much and it was difficult for her.  I think like most incoming freshmen, they have to adjust to a new role as well as a new pace and an entirely different style of basketball.  More knowledge than their brain could take at a given time.
It’s like they’re thirsty for a drink and you’re spraying them with a water hose.  Lyndsey did a great job of learning how to be, first and foremost, an excellent teammate.  And then, secondly, but just as important, a learner every day in practice.  And she has continued over the last month, especially.  She’s continued to learn and grow, and you start to see a buildup of some of that attention paid and reps, experience throughout the year.
She’s making the most of the time with Abi and learning from her and pushing her and being a great teammate with Abi.  And I think Lyndsey really has a chance to help us.  I really like the way she’s embraced her role over the last month or the last six to eight weeks, I should say.

Q.  You talked about the San Antonio and the hospitality here.  What makes this specifically what makes this a great venue for the Final Four and do you see San Antonio being in the mix for this event for years to come?
COACH COALE:  Boy, I hope so.  And I’ll tell you this:  We were fortunate enough to be in the Final Four in 2002.  And I talked to some men’s coaches after that.  And, you know, without fail, the men’s coaches that I spoke to said the best city in America to have the Final Four in is San Antonio.

So I think we were a little bit spoiled, that being our only experience there, we were a little bit spoiled, and I think it comes from a couple of things.  Number one, the weather is usually fantastic.  And the atmosphere that surrounds the Riverwalk.  It’s just festive and it presents opportunities for the charm of the tournament to really grow.

You know, you go up and down the Riverwalk and people are wearing their colors and yelling "Boomer Sooner" and whatever the Huskies do.  Do they bark?  Whatever.  It’s conducive to that thing that makes collegiate athletics so special.

And last but not least the hospitality, the people there.  The city of San Antonio loves basketball.  You can tell.  And everybody in the city here’s the most impressive thing.  I’ve been to Final Fours not as a participant but as a coach attending a convention and a championship all over the United States.  And you go in some cities and three fourths of the people don’t know what’s going on in their city.

I didn’t encounter one individual in San Antonio who said, Now why are you here?  Everybody would say, oh, you must be here for the women’s championship.  That was a cool feeling.

Q.  My question is about Geno, someone who you know very well and have coached against many times.  In terms of looking historically among the coaches in the women’s game, where would you rank him at this point?
COACH COALE:  He’s the best.

Q.  Absolute, he’s the best?
COACH COALE:  I don’t think there’s any question.

Q.  Why?
COACH COALE:  His consistency.  The high bar that he sets and the demands that he makes on his kids.  Excellent recruiter.  Recruits kids who can and will play the way he wants to play.  And that’s the magic, in my opinion, of recruiting, getting the kids that you want to coach who can play the way you think the game ought to be played.
And I think it’s really, really hard to maintain the edge that his team’s maintained through all of the success that they’ve experienced, and I think that’s probably his gift at the end of it all.

Q.  First, you and Kim are more or less contemporaries, and I can’t remember when you started at your respective schools, but you’ve been there for a similar length of time.  Could you talk about how Kim has built the Baylor program?
COACH COALE:  Again, she’s recruited kids who can play the way she wants to play.  Her teams are very hard-nosed, very tough.  She’s had star after star.  I think of Sheila Lambert and Sophia Young.  I think of Brittney Griner.  I throw Tisdale in that mix, too.  I love that point guard.  I thought she was fantastic. Kim always seems to have a heady, tough point guard and been a superstar.  She built her teams that play in a similar way to the way that she played, tough and smart and unrelenting. And I think she’s done it by going after those kind of kids who flourish in that environment.

Q.  I wonder if you would elaborate on your statement about the women’s field is not quite ready for 96 teams.  Tara VanDerveer mentioned earlier a couple of hours ago said she thought an expansion might sort of, I want to make sure I get it right either help the middle class of women’s basketball or establish one. If that makes sense.
COACH COALE:  Well, I have a very strong opinion about it.  I don’t think it’s good for the men’s game.  How could you why would you touch what just happened in the men’s tournament?
I’m speechless to even respond to it.  How could you ask for a better sporting event than what’s just occurred?  And you look at our women’s tournament and we’ve had all kinds of close games and victories at the end and overtimes.  We’re getting it.  We’re figuring it out.

And I think anytime you expand that field, what you’re doing is a couple of things.  Number one, watering down what happens. And, number two, you’re sort of defeating what you’re trying to accomplish with parity in terms of competitive games and earning the right to be in something special. And I’ll tell you, I just feel very strongly that getting into the tournament is something that you earn over the course of a season.  And I don’t think that just everybody should get to go.

You know, I’m about to go on the soapbox about my daughter’s third place soccer trophy in the garage.  I won’t go there.  I’ll spare you.  But I just think that getting an invitation to go means you have accomplished something.  And the wider and broader we make that field, maybe the less significant that accomplishment.

Q.  Speaking of trophies, who is going to get possession of the homemade trophy?
COACH COALE:  Oh, that one goes in the locker room.  That one will stay in the locker room until it disintegrates from old age.

Q.  Nyeshia last night, what kind of jet fuel was she on?  The couple of steals she had at mid courtI know the other team, Kentucky, was supposed to be quick.  I know she played really well in Kansas City, but she seemed, last night, to just be going to another gear.
COACH COALE:  Yeah, I would agree with you.  And I have no idea why I didn’t feed her whatever I fed her earlier.  I think she just she just realized that she had an early drive to the basket and just short armed a layup.  And I think she realized on that drive and we’ve had this conversation during countless games throughout the year, you can get to the rim, you can get to the rim.  And she’ll shake her head in agreement.  But there’s not really a buy in there, a belief.

And when I told her at the timeout last night you can do that every time and you will make that layup, I saw in her eyes that she understood that she could do that.
And it became a priority for her.  And interesting, because her first year as a freshman, the ball came out of her hand a different way every single time she shot it.  Her perimeter shooting touch was not very good.  And that’s probably being kind. And so what she did was she got to the rim and she got to the rim and she got to the rim, and then she worked on her shot and she became the 3 point shooter that I couldn’t convince to get to the rim.

And so finally, over the course of this past year and a half, she’s realized how to put those two things together and how one can complement another.  And she just got in the gear last night.  There were a couple of plays in the open floor where she came up with a rebound or came up with a deflection, turned into a steal, and dribbled past two Kentucky players who were running full speed, without a ball.  And these guys aren’t slow.
I mean, their team is very athletic.  So maybe she’s realized there is still yet another gear and we’ll see that a couple more times.

Q.  When she’s improved her outside shot and the ability to get to the rim, is this one of those things that just maybe right now in her career where everything’s kind of crystallized into saying, hey, I’ve kind of got I’ve got the package here and I can sort of, you know, do whatever the defense gives me?
COACH COALE:  Nyeshia is one of those cases where when we signed her at the University of Oklahoma she was really raw.  She was an athlete who had a very, very limited skill package.  And she has grown and progressed as much as any kid I’ve ever had in our program. But I don’t think she’s playing as good of. I don’t think she’s playing as well as she’s going to play at the next level.  I think she’s probably piqued the interest of a lot of WNBA coaches.  She’s one of those where you can’t afford to not take a look at her, because if there’s this other level up there, it could be something really special. And I think she’s given us some glimpse of that.  And the thing about Nyeshia, she’s learned how to work at a really high level.  And with all that athleticism and that skill that she’s developed, accompanied with the work ethic, she can still do some things.

Q.  To talk a little bit more about Nyeshia, she seems to have grown from this player that a couple of years ago really didn’t want the ball in her hands when the game was on the line to a player that’s kind of carried you the last two games.  Could you talk about the heart of Nyeshia, what you’ve seen her grown as a player this year, particularly?
COACH COALE:  Well, it’s been a progression of four years, obviously.  She had to learn how to listen first, and then she had to learn how to do things that are hard.  And this is interesting in that it seems over the years the kids that have been the toughest to teach in terms of effort, you can play so much harder than you’re playing right now.  The kids that I’ve battled with over the years end up in their senior years to be the kids that find this other ethereal plane where they just get after it.

I think of Laneisha Caufield.  Everybody knows how hard Caufield played down the stretch in her senior year.  I fought her as hard as any kid I’ve ever fought early on in her career, saying you can’t take possessions off.  You have to play harder.  Laura Andrews, another kid who just thought she was playing as hard as she possibly could.  And then when she figured out, hey, there’s this other gear, became just an unbelievably hard nosed player for us in her senior year.  So Nyeshia’s progression is not unlike those of the two players I just explained. She figured out it hurts, it always hurts to go to that next level.  But she’s not going to die, and the result of having gone there and performed there is worth all the pain and then some.  And now she loves it.  She loves competing like that.

Q.  Coming into the season everybody was saying no Courtney or Ashley Paris, no chance at a Final Four.  Then when Whitney gets hurt absolutely no chance at a Final Four.  Was there ever a time when anybody on this team thought that that still couldn’t be accomplished?
COACH COALE:  I really don’t think so.  I go back to the day after or the afternoon immediately following the game when Whitney tore her knee up.  And when I called the team together, just the look in their eyes, I can’t say they looked at me with complete conviction that we’re going to the Final Four, but they looked at me believing that we could become special. They knew it would take a while.  But they believed that the end result, if everybody bought in and did what they were supposed to do and what was expected of them, that we could become extraordinary. And I say that "if," because that was the thing.  And they looked at each other with an honesty and sincerity and kind of here’s where you make the choice, the line in the sand has been drawn, either we all buy in completely, 100 percent to taking care of our business and we be extraordinary, or we don’t and it’s over.
And it was that look of really just stripped down pure honesty. I can’t think of a better way to describe it that made me know that we had a chance to do something special.

Q.  Can we just your first impressions of a matchup with Stanford, and I know this Final Four there’s going to be a lot of focus on big players, Tina and Brittney, certainly, and then Stanford’s got its big players inside, but what’s your first impressions of a matchup?
COACH COALE:  Well, the first thing I think of when I think of Stanford is a multitude of weapons.  They never come in and just have one or two guys that lead them in scoring.  They always have balance.  They always play well together.  They’re very disciplined, very methodical about what they do, a very rhythmic offense. So the charge, I think, is always to disrupt them in some way.  And that’s a lot easier said than done.

Q.  With 4.4 seconds on the clock, would you go the length, would you call timeout, what would you have done?
COACH COALE:  I’ll tell you what, it depends on your personnel, it depends on the situation, it depends on your opponent and what you’ve seen from them all night long.
We have plays that we practice all the time, length of the floor.  We have, if they let you get it in, dribble across half court, one dribble across half court and pick it up call timeout.  We have a quick hit from the sidelines.  It depends on what you have in your package and what your kids feel comfortable with. I think the most important thing at that juncture in a game, whether it’s 4.4 or 2.3 or 7, it doesn’t really matter, but when you’ve got the ball with seconds to go, most important thing is that your kids feel confident about what you ask them to do. And if you go out there and you draw something that they’ve never done before and they’re the least bit confused or uncomfortable, you’re not going to be successful.

So I think it’s much more their confidence level and their comfort level than the exact thing that you diagram to do.

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