Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer: 2010 NCAA Final Four Media Teleconference
March 31, 2010
COACH VANDERVEER: Thank you, Rick. And thank you very much for the very nice compliments. We’re very excited about coming to San Antonio.
I feel that our team, you know, we had a very tough regional, and I want to just compliment Xavier on a great regional championship game and our team was really given a second life.
And I know that our players and our staff are very appreciative of that and we plan to make the absolute most of it.
Q. You had a chance to play UConn earlier in the year, and you probably didn’t want to look too far ahead. But when you look at this tournament, when you see the things UConn has done and the ways offensively and defensively you try to control that team earlier on, what will Kim Mulkey and Baylor and what will maybe potentially you have to do to change that tide from happening again?
COACH VANDERVEER: They’re playing very well. And I think it’s playing any great team you have to kind of minimize their strength, and they have a lot of strengths to minimize. So it’s a tough job. I think Kim is a great coach. She has an exceptional player and something different to prepare with Brittney Griner. No one else in the country has that type of post presence defensively, and so I think that there might be some adjustments that Connecticut will have to make to go up against her.
And also obviously there are other talented players. But for us we are focused on Oklahoma and working as hard as we can so we’ll be in that championship game, regardless of the opponent.
Q. How has that obviously with the last second the other night, how has that rejuvenated and refocused the team? You mentioned it gave them a second life, but are they excited now they have that opportunity?
COACH VANDERVEER: It was a shock, honestly, coming back on the bus. We haven’t practiced. I haven’t seen the team. We went back to school. So we’ll practice this afternoon. I know that it was a shock then, and waking up Tuesday morning it was like, oh, my gosh, we’re still playing, we’re in the Final Four. It’s amazing.
And we just I’ve felt bad and I know a lot of people felt bad for Xavier, because they really had us on the ropes. But somehow we wiggled out. And we definitely want to maximize our opportunity, and so I do think it has given us really a second life.
Q. Could you first expand a little bit about Necka’s development in all facets, both offense and defense? And then if could you address how different a team Oklahoma is than Xavier. They don’t have a lot of size and quickness.
COACH VANDERVEER: First of all, with Necka, I think the biggest thing is Necka’s confidence. I think she gained it through the season last year. She finished very strong, playing very well for us in the NCAA tournament, and it even built more doing so well for U.S.A. Basketball.
Necka is a young player, she’s really learning the game, and I think she’s really dedicated herself.
What I noticed this year is she is so attentive and she’s such a student of the game. She’s so focused that I just think that for her it’s really paying off. She’s a very athletic player. She’s working on expanding her game, shooting 3 point shots.
She is a total team player. She does whatever our team needs her to do, whether it’s rebound, scores on the block, defends. So all facets of our game are maturing, and I just think we’re really proud of how hard she works and her improvement.
And in preparing for Oklahoma, they are like us, I think, in that they’re like maybe I call them my regular team. You look at Kentucky, they’re extreme in what they do.
You look at even Baylor with Griner, that’s extreme. You know what I mean? With Xavier, that’s extreme, they’re so big. For us and Oklahoma, we’re kind of regular teams. If anything, Oklahoma, you know they don’t maybe have as much size as we do but they have more back court quickness.
Q. Is it a good thing or just a product of how you guys have been that in this NCAA tournament you’ve had a different leading scorer every night or every game you’ve had?
COACH VANDERVEER: I didn’t know that. I think we have good balance. I think that for us we’re not all about Jayne and we’re not all about Necka. We’re not all about Kayla. Jeanette has had a good game or Ros has had a good game.
And I think in order for us to do what we really want to do and having a shot at winning a national championship we’ll need not just those five but I would say maybe eight, nine, coming off, with the four coming off the bench.
Joslyn Tinkle hit a big shot for us. J.J. Hones hit a big shot and Melanie Murphy came off playing a good Pac 10 tournament. Hopefully she can step up more in the NCAA. And Michelle Harrison, until she got really got knocked in the head, she’s been practicing really well. So those are the people we’re really counting on.
Q. My question is, this is not something that’s going to be surprising to you, but I think a lot of people have considered this tournament more than anything else a coronation for Connecticut. And I wonder as the No. 2 team in the country, obviously as a team that’s only lost one game, when you hear that stuff, when you read that stuff, what’s your reaction to that, when, at least externally, outside of your program, people believe that this is not really a competition but a coronation this year?
COACH VANDERVEER: Well, you know, Connecticut has obviously they’ve had a great season. They’ve had a great run and they have great players. But we know that it’s getting the job done on that night.
And I think sometimes, like when it’s called the Connecticut Invitational, we say, hey, we just want to get invited. And then we get there and let’s play well. And obviously for us right now our total focus is on Oklahoma. And what we have to do is we just have to take care of it might be, you know I don’t know. I don’t know what kind of preparation Connecticut does. I think they have to prepare for whatever team came through there. I think they would have to prepare for whether it’s Duke or Baylor, too.
I think we’re all doing the same thing, just preparing for each game and trying to get in the championship game.
But they’ve made some just tremendous statements, a regional 40 point game, and we win the regional with four seconds. So there’s we’re getting there different ways. But we’re all there. And we’re very excited and I think for us, you know, we want the opportunity to play in the championship game.
Q. One thing that’s interesting is sometimes when you have a lose a really key player, how do the other players adjust to that? When you guys lost Candice Wiggins and to make the Final Four without her, Oklahoma has done that losing Courtney and Ashley Paris, could you talk about the challenge of coming back after losing that dominant player and how sometimes other players step up their games?
COACH VANDERVEER: I think that’s true, in that for us Candice was Candice was so dominant for our team. But I think she taught other people how to compete and brought confidence to people like Jeanette and Ros and Jayne. And when you go there, you’re like, wow, this is awesome, we want to go back and we want to even obviously do better. So you kind of get I think you see teams that go multiple years.
A lot of different if you look at kind of the records, Auburn went through years in a row. You have teams that go back multiple years. LSU, they went five times in a row. So I think that the teams they get used to playing at that level. They get used to winning at that level. And they pass it on. And Candice did get it going for us. We were knocking on the door before that, but she got it going for us and other people have said fine, let’s keep going.
Q. Could you comment on how strong your defense has been really throughout this whole year, and particularly the challenges of trying to slow someone like a Danielle Robinson on the perimeter, how your guards will respond to that?
COACH VANDERVEER: Well, I think our defense on the perimeter has started with Rosalyn Gold Onwude. She always has been a really tough defender for us. But she really takes it personally. And she really takes pride in her defense. And she just we give her a kind of a job and if it’s guarding Danielle Robinson, we’ll say here’s some little tips, but she really she watches extra video. She’ll talk to me about, well, I’m not sure we should play that screen that way.
She’s very intelligent. Like we played one player where when the player was going right, we went over the screen. When she was going left, we went under the screen. I mean, she really concentrates on her defense.
After that, I think you’ve got players who, you know I call it Ros plays kind of lockdown defense and other people are really great at taking charge. Melanie Murphy. And Kayla Pedersen is a great defender at 6’4".
Jayne and Necka, we play scouting report defense. I tell them this is what I want you to do, and they work hard to do it. I think Jeanette works hard defensively. Now we need people coming off the bench and giving us a little bit more. Joslyn can help us more. J.J. plays excellent help side. She can guard people and she’s a very smart defender.
Q. These teams are different, but you and Oklahoma, you guys have had previous NCAA tournament meetings, most recently in 2006, Courtney’s freshman year. Could you talk about the style and philosophy you guys have had? Both of you have had a lot of success.
COACH VANDERVEER: You know, we haven’t played for a while. Obviously, that was the last time we played, and that was at The Alamodome actually. But we have similar teams. And I think we approach the game kind of in similar ways, and they have a go to post player.
They really they run a triangle. Maybe we run it different ways. But I think we’re similar, and just with playing them, I think there’s a certain comfort level for probably them and us. I mean, Danielle played on the same team as Jayne Appel did, a summer team, East Bay Xplosion. They played against Jeanette and Danielle played against each other for the state championship.
So not just her but other people through USA Basketball. Abi Olajuwon from Southern California. So there’s a connection with our team and their team.
Q. The fact that the Big 12 has got two of the Final Four teams in there, and it’s Nebraska obviously won the regular season undefeated and A&M won the conference tournament title, and neither one of those teams are in San Antonio, would that to you seem to suggest pretty good depth for the Big 12, the fact that two teams that were kind of in the middle of the standings end up in the Final Four?
COACH VANDERVEER: Well, I think the Big 12 should be really commended and complemented on their commitment to women’s basketball.
You don’t have two teams in the Final Four or that many teams doing so well or even that many teams invited unless you have a great commitment and it starts, whether it’s at the I think it starts probably at the conference level but also at the individual university level, when you have what it seems to me is that Big 12 teams value women’s basketball.
You have crowds. You do TV. You do promotion. I think the high salaries of coaches are probably the averages in the Big 12. You probably have the numbers. I don’t have them at my fingertips. But there is a commitment and just saying we value women’s basketball.
And I think it’s a great statement, and I think it’s something that I hope that other conferences look at and say, hey, let’s keep up with them. We don’t want to play second fiddle to the Big 12.
Q. I wanted to ask if you could sort of assess the pluses and minuses of playing a Final Four in a dome as you will this weekend as opposed to a conventional arena, and if you sort of if there’s any way to sort of duplicate the experience before you get there or what you talk to your players about in that circumstance.
COACH VANDERVEER: Until you brought it up, I didn’t think about it. We’ve played there before. I’m going to say absolutely nothing. We’re so excited to be playing there. We’re hoping that I’m sure it will be a great turnout. I hope it will be a sellout. And it’s just a great atmosphere.
And just I think if you make a big deal about something, you’ll find things that confirm your hypothesis whether it’s about shooting or defense or whatever.
But I’m just excited to be playing there and we’re very excited to be going to San Antonio.
Q. Can you give me a couple things what Jayne Appel has meant to the program?
COACH VANDERVEER: Well, Jayne is we call her she drives a bus. Jayne is the real deal. She’s a competitor. She’s a very skilled player. She’s a great passer from the center position. She scores. She rebounds. She runs the floor. She defends. And I think she really loves playing for Stanford. And I think she’ll do a great job this weekend.
And just you saying that just made me kind of well up thinking the fact I’m only going to coach her for two more games. And I will miss her dearly. She’s my two on two basketball partner when we play in Arizona. Down there we play two on two, and we’re undefeated.
Q. Wonder if I could ask you to expand a little more on Necka, but specifically defense, because I think that’s something she’s also improved a lot on, and just talk about how much she’s grown and learned in her two years?
COACH VANDERVEER: We play a majority of our defense is player to player defense. And so we need her to I think she’s gotten good experience. We need her to play against, usually, the 4. Whether that’s sometimes Maya Moore, whether that’s Gilbreath in our conference or any number of different post players. Last year it was Ashley Walker. She’s played against really top players. Necka is a competitor. She is very intellectual. She really takes things. She focuses and says, all right, make this player go this way. Take away their strengths. She works very hard at the defensive end of the floor, and I think she has improved a lot. I think you’re right.
Q. It popped into my head sitting here watching ESPN seems as the expansion on the men’s side to 96 teams is a fait accompli, would that be a wise thing for the women’s game? And, if not, when do you think we could see reasonably see a 96 team tournament?
COACH VANDERVEER: You say you think it is a done deal?
Q. Apparently Jim Delany from the Big Ten said used the words probable and likely.
COACH VANDERVEER: I think if they do it on the men’s side they should do it at the same time on the women’s side, just in the fact that opportunities to play in the NCAA tournament are really special. And if that’s what’s I think so many people are losing their jobs because they maybe don’t go to the tournament.
Maybe that is motivating in a positive way for women’s basketball too. If they were to go next year, I would hope women’s basketball would do the same thing.
Q. Do you think there are 96 good teams I mean, if you had a tournament to decide a champion, do you think there are 96 teams that would be worthy of playing in it?
COACH VANDERVEER: I do. You know, if you look at I mean, there are a lot I think there are teams in our conference that could have played in it and competed very well in it. Because of the number of automatic bids, you know, we played some closer games in our conference than we did against some of the early rounds.
So I think it would be if that’s the decision in some ways people might say it waters the tournament down, or maybe it’s not as special. But I think that we have to be open to change. And then once it’s there, I don’t think it will ever come back. How many rounds would that be?
Q. Apparently at least two.
COACH VANDERVEER: Any play ins first?
Q. The format I’ve heard on the men’s side is actually no, it would be one more round. The format I’ve heard is the top 32 teams get a bye into I guess to the regular 64 format, then the other 64 play.
COACH VANDERVEER: I think that actually would be good. I think that would be good. I think that would be good, actually, for women’s basketball. Where you wouldn’t have like a tier one, like we’re a 1 or Connecticut was a 1 or playing a 96. But I think that would actually help women’s basketball a lot. And once you explain to me how they were going to do it, I think that would be really, really good for women’s basketball.
Q. In what regard? How so?
COACH VANDERVEER: Just in that that’s one of the biggest problems we have is developing that group of teams, those 64 teams. And it’s not clear necessarily that there are teams that are left out, and it’s almost like the development of the middle class of basketball, you know?
Those are the teams that we need having incentive for and we need improving and those teams that are on the bubble. So I think it would give them more incentive, and we need women in the gym and offseason improving and getting that experience because it’s so positive that I think it’s a big carrot that could be used for teams and help develop our game.
Even more so, I think the men’s side, they’re already there, so they’re trying to figure out who really deserves it, but for us it would really help us develop it.
Q. I know this game is a couple of years ago, and obviously the rosters have changed and in particular for your team, Candice Wiggins has now moved on to the pro ranks, but is there anything that your program can draw on from the fact that you guys are the last team to beat UConn before they went on this long run? Does it weigh at all into anything we’re about to see over the next couple of days?
COACH VANDERVEER: If a rematch materializes, I think it helps people’s confidence on our team to be able to to know that they have been on the winning side against Maya Moore or against Tina Charles.
Now, these are different teams. But I think that when you go into a game like that, I think that that would be helpful.
I also think the fact that we’re playing them and they have a great team and a great program helps us get better.
Q. The way the game transpired the other night, do you think that was kind of a karma payback for some of the close losses you had in the regional finals with Tennessee, maybe, and LSU?
COACH VANDERVEER: I don’t believe in that. But I think that, you know, sometimes sometimes you’re lucky. And that might have just been one of those situations, and we’re very fortunate to survive that game. And, I mean, I think Xavier gave us all we could handle, and there were a lot of things that went wrong in that game, but it was really nice to have something go right.