Photos: Tennessee and Louisville meet the press
On their day off in between the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight, Tennessee and Louisville faced the press and talked about the Cardinal’s major upset of No. 1 Baylor and the Tuesday game for a berth in the Final Four.
|TennesseeCoach Warlick: Obviously we are extremely excited to be here, and these young ladies have worked hard all year, and it’s a great opportunity for them. And I think they look forward to the challenge.
Q. Meighan, just like we were all predicting, you guys are going to be playing Louisville tomorrow. We asked you a bunch of questions yesterday about Baylor and that’s not who you’re going to play. Can you talk about your feelings while you guys were watching that game and what it felt like to know you weren’t going to have to go against Baylor?
Meighan Simmons: Honestly, I feel like we just had just got done playing because our adrenaline was flying from watching the game. Like I said to my teammates yesterday, it doesn’t matter who we play, I mean, either way we would have had to play either team to get to the Final Four. But no matter who we are, it’s just another team that’s standing in front of us of getting to the Final Four and even possibly winning the national championship.
We just have to take one game at a time no matter what opponent we play and just go out there and play hard and play Tennessee basketball.
Q. Coach, obviously everyone was expecting a lot from Baylor and now that they’re out of the tournament, now it looks like the field is wide open. I was just wondering what you thought about that.
Coach Warlick: Well, I think the opportunity is there for both teams, and as Meighan said, this team has been really good about taking one game at a time, and that’s been our focus. We really have not looked ahead for anyone. So our preparation today will be for Louisville. They have extraordinary game, and they’re in the same spot we are. We’ll prepare for Louisville as we would have prepared for Baylor, just understanding personnel, understanding concepts, and it’s just a great opportunity for us.
This team has not been overly hyped and they have not been extremely low, even after our losses. I think they’ve understood when we’ve had a loss they’ve got to go back to the drawing board and get better. They’re going to be focused, and I think they’ll understand what needs to be done.
Q. Taber, about that, about not being too high or low, you had that real tough loss at Missouri and then a tough loss in the SEC tournament. Can you talk about how you were able to sort of regroup after tough losses this season and come back?
Taber Spani: Well, I think it’s a testament to the fight and the competitiveness that we have on this team. I’ve said this ever since this team has been kind of brought together: I haven’t been on a team so far here that has that fighting spirit, and we’re so hungry, and I think that’s helping fuel our passion to go out and be energetic and play every possession literally like it’s our last because at this point you don’t know, nothing is guaranteed, so I think the fact that Missouri, it was a tough loss, we didn’t play very well but we learned from it, and Texas A & M was a heartbreaking loss for us, and we all were devastated but we learned from it.
I think every loss that we’ve had, I think the focus has been to get better from it and not to dwell on it, and I think we’ve done that and we’re really finally meshing and coming together and starting to play the kind of defense that we pride ourselves on playing, and I think the fact that we’re doing that at the right time is exciting for us.
Q. Ariel, I wanted to get your thoughts on when you look at Louisville’s backcourt, what really strikes you about the Schimmels and Bria Smith and what really strikes you about how they play?
Ariel Massengale: I mean, they play hard. They can put the ball in the basket, they can get to the rim, they can shoot the three, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge for us. I think in the past couple games we’ve done a good job of taking away other teams’ strengths so we’re going to be aware of personnel and try to contain Shoni Schimmel, she’s been great, she’s a great player, knows how to put the ball in the basket. But I think our coaching staff has a great plan for us to go out there and hopefully contain that tomorrow night.
Q. Holly, when you look at the way Louisville shot from beyond the arc yesterday, how do you guys plan to attack that and try to defend that?
Coach Warlick: Well, it was fabulous. I mean, they shot the lights out. We’re going to defend personnel, try to limit touches. We’re going to defend by committee. We’ve done that all year. We’re going to take a lot of pride in one on one defense, and as Taber said, we’ve worked a lot on that and we’re going to mix up our defenses.
So our game plan is to try to limit their three point shooting. We played Creighton who was second in the nation on three point shots and we allowed them five, so we’re well aware of their strengths, and obviously we’re going to try to take them away.
Q. Holly, Kim talked about before playing that it was tough to figure out what defense Louisville was playing. Do you have any idea what you might face against them or are they difficult to scout?
Coach Warlick: Yeah, I think they run just a whole plethora of a lot of things, and we’re not going to try to spend a lot of time figuring out if it’s a man, it’s a zone. We’re going to try to run offenses that we can run both. We’ve been doing that all year, and Ariel has been great at seeing things, and I’m allowing her to call an offense that she sees fit during the game.
We’re aware of that. We have offenses that can go against both, and we don’t want to slow our game up trying to figure out what Louisville what their defense is doing. We want to continue to attack, attacking the full court, attacking the half court.
Q. Kamiko, can you address, you guys have played some good three point shooting teams, Creighton is one, Missouri is another. When teams are like Louisville was yesterday, they weren’t just Baylor was defending them and they were taking some shots that were just crazy, but they were making them. How do you deal with that both strategically and emotionally as a defender?
Kamiko Williams: I think we just make it a pride game. I know Coach Elzy just pulled some of us aside and challenged us to get in the guarding, and Holly, as well, and if we all just take it upon ourselves to lock up one on one and make sure our girl doesn’t score and make it tough for the guards and much easier for the post players to do their job. I think it’s just a pride thing that plays into it.
Q. Holly, what do you think it does for a sport when a team that seems unbeatable finally falls?
Coach Warlick: Well, that’s why you play the game. You just it’s a game, and all bets are off. Nothing is guaranteed. So you always go into the game, or you should, thinking you’re going to win. We’ve been on the Baylor side when Chamique Holdsclaw was a senior and beat us to go to a Final Four. Nothing is guaranteed, and if these young ladies understand that and you put in the time, things will happen. And as Michelle said, Baylor was doing a great job of defending the three. It was going in, and they were in a rhythm. It’s just why you play the game. It’s what’s great about this game.
Q. Bashaara, Louisville was very physical yesterday. I know this is a physical game, but they were doing a lot to grind or they were disrupting her when she didn’t have the ball. As a post player you’ve gotten used to that in college but can you talk about how you keep your cool when you’re going against a team that does that?
Bashaara Graves: You’ve got to keep your emotion intact. You can’t get emotional when people are battling and the refs are not calling it. You just keep your emotions and keep playing your game.
Q. Holly, I guess you can spin this either way. We’re going to ask Louisville how they come back after such a big game and we’ll ask you guys how you avoid not saying wow, Baylor is out of the picture. Do you think the fact that you guys have the experience you have is a big factor? It sounds like you guys are probably happy Baylor is gone but immediately said, hey, that doesn’t mean we’re in the Final Four yet.
Coach Warlick: Well, I would not be truthful if I didn’t say I was glad Baylor is out of the tournament. But these young ladies have kept things in perspective, and I think they understand what’s ahead of them and what they need to get the job needs to get done. As I said, we’ve had lows and we’ve had highs, but this is a special group. There’s a bond between them and our coaching staff that I haven’t felt in a long, long time. And when you have that bond, they’re not going to overlook anybody. They’re not. They’re going to go out and play as hard as they can. I don’t care who it is, and that’s what I love about them. They spend a lot of time together off the basketball court, and when you do that, you form a trust, and I think these young ladies have a great trust that they’re going to go and be up for the game.
It’s a great opportunity for them, and they understand that. But it doesn’t matter who we play, and we’re not going in with the attitude of we’re just going to roll over Louisville. No, we have to play and we have to play together.
So I think they understand that.
Q. Holly, I know it’s kind of difficult to evaluate when you’re still in the middle of the season, but kind of looking back, what’s been the biggest challenge in your first year as the head coach or maybe the biggest thing you’ve learned just being in this position versus where you had been for so many years before?
Coach Warlick: Well, my biggest challenge is just my time away from basketball. Just doing the things outside of being on the court. When you’re coaching when you love doing Xs and Os and being around these young women because that’s what you love, and that’s what I love, and the time away from them has probably been my biggest challenge.
Even if I do something these guys bring me back down to earth if something goes on. They give me quite a bit of a hard time, but then I turn around and give it back to them.
But yeah, I just think the time commitment and but I’ll tell you, I have an unbelievable staff, and I don’t feel like I have to go into a game or to a practice and I have to make all the decisions. There’s no way as a coach, for me, that if I had to make all the decisions, if I had to sub I’ve got great assistants that do a lot of things, and sometimes I stand up there and I get the opportunity to call an offense and a defense. I have a lot of help.
Q. Holly, this doesn’t have anything to do with tomorrow’s game, but just historically you guys were every bit the giant, you’d won three in a row, you had the best player in the country, had taken everybody’s best shot for four seasons and you lost that game, so emotionally devastating to watch. How as a coach do you sort of comfort those kids even though they’ve had all that success that they’re going to feel this incredible disappointment in their last college game?
Coach Warlick: Yeah, it is, I know how disappointed they are. We’ve been there. That should not take away the great year they’ve had, the great career that Brittney Griner has had, the standard she has set, the standard the whole team has set. It’s tough, and I know it’s tough for Kim, as well, but you’ve got to look at the big picture and understand where you’ve taken women’s basketball. You’ve gotten the interest up. You’ve got to keep thinking about the positives and not the last game. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to do, and it’ll be really difficult for Kim and the team to watch that last game, but you’ve got to watch it and understand what you did and learn from it.
But what a great run they had. We will not see a Brittney Griner time player probably for a long time, and obviously Sims. That’s one of the best competitors in the game. So disappointing obviously for them to not go to the Final Four, but it is part of the game, and as you said, I’ve been there and we have felt that, and it’s tough to go out that way as a senior. But they’re going to continue to play a game, we’re going to play the game tomorrow and there’s going to be four people in the Final Four. It’s just the nature of this of any sport.
Not always the best player plays for championships, and we’ve been on both ends. We’ve been on both ends. We’ve lost 10 games and won a national championship when the coaches are trying to figure out how we were going to just get our players to show up. Along with winning comes you’ve got to have a little luck, and it’s about match ups, too.
Q. Holly, going back to that season opener against Chattanooga, did you come away from that game thinking, oh, this team will probably end up in the Elite 8 just needing one more win to go to the Final Four?
Coach Warlick: I sure did. I thought we were on our way. No, I was quite frankly I was wondering what did I get myself into, and the first person I saw was Coach Summitt, and she just assured me things would get better, and she told me that she lost her first game, and I thought, well, you know, Coach Summitt lost her first game, I’m going to be okay.
The worst thing I did was went back to my hotel room and looked at the schedule, our remaining schedule, and I’m like, I just had to turn it over, and I had to just start focusing on Georgia Tech because that was our next opponent. Yeah, it was a little scary. It was a little scary. But we turned it around. But yeah, to lose your first game to an in state school, it didn’t fare too well with a lot of myself and I’m sure a lot of fans. They were ready to get rid of me after the first game.
Q. Holly, just to follow up on that, what kind of changes did you make with the team going in after that loss?
Coach Warlick: Well, we’ve been a we’ve tried to make defense and rebounding a priority, and I think we had a team meeting the next day, and probably reidentified roles and what our expectations of each young lady player.
I think that helped. And then we challenged them. We reminded them who they were representing, the University of Tennessee, and themselves, as well. We defined roles, and then we went to work. We took practice a little bit more serious. We were a little bit more focused. And we went and opened our next game, we opened up Georgia Tech’s facility, their brand new facility. So I think that our practices probably leading up to that game were the best we’ve had thus far. We just tried to make sure they understand our expectations of them.
Q. Holly, what games this year do you think you have played the best defense?
Coach Warlick: I thought North Carolina we played well. I thought Texas A & M we played well. Gosh. I mean, we played in spurts, but I thought yesterday I thought probably was our best defensive effort. We got aggressive, we got after the ball, and I think if you had to set an example of Tennessee basketball on the defensive end, I thought yesterday was a great example.
We have been working and working and working out since day one in the fall, so our defensive rebounding has been such a priority to where we’ve sometimes ignored our offense because we needed to get so much better defensively. I’d say Oklahoma was our best overall game.
Q. Did you look at Baylor yourself any?
Coach Warlick: I looked at I actually looked at all three, but I mainly looked at Oklahoma because if we don’t take care of them, we’re obviously not going to advance. But all the coaches, yeah, we put in a lot of time with Baylor and a lot of time with Louisville. That’s just the nature of our job, and that’s what you do. I’m sure Dean is not I think he’ll be okay that he did all that work and we’re not using it.
But that’s what you do. That’s what you do. You just put in a lot of time and watch a lot of film, especially at tournament time. That’s just part of our job and what we do.
Q. I’m sure that you’ve probably heard from a lot of people after your win, but did you hear from a lot of people after what happened in that game after? I’m curious to gauge the buzz that has been created by what Louisville did here yesterday.
Coach Warlick: Well, I heard both, honestly. Excited about our win. A lot of text messages. A lot of people don’t call me when I’m here. But a lot of text messaging during the game of the Louisville game saying can you believe what happened and those type of things. Absolutely. I think in general it’s I’m sure that’s what everybody is saying. Louisville had a great game plan, they stuck with it, and they finished the job.
I will say this: 16 threes and then Baylor had a chance the strength of Baylor, you’ve got to understand that they’re still in the game they give up 16 threes and then they go ahead towards the end of the game. Baylor is an incredible team. They’re just a phenomenal team, and it was Louisville’s day and they did a great job and followed Jeff’s game plan and made shots and won the game. So it was a tribute to both teams. Hard fought game with Baylor, but the perseverance of Louisville in finishing the job.
Q. What are your thoughts on Shoni Schimmel particularly? She’s sort of a dynamic scorer when she really gets going and just seemed like she had almost the game of her life yesterday.
Coach Warlick: Yeah, she is there’s people who shoot the basketball, and there’s people who score, and she’s a scorer. You just hope she doesn’t get in the she was in a zone yesterday, and I’m sure the shot that she shot over Griner was probably the number one play of ESPN top 10. She plays the game. She plays the game hard, and she wants the basketball, and so that’s going to be a challenge for us. We can’t let her get in the zone and she was in a big time zone yesterday.
Q. Maybe it matters, maybe it doesn’t, but this group of girls having been to the Final Four and even at a program like Tennessee that’s been there so many times, do you have a sense of what it would mean to get there?
Coach Warlick: Well, this group it would be huge. I mean, we’ve three out of the last four years of Taber and Kamiko’s career, they probably had the possibility of going against Baylor. I think it would be huge, huge for them. It’s unique at Tennessee in we’ve created a monster because we it’s great to win SEC championships, but our fans and everybody, if you don’t go to the Final Four and win a national championship, you’ve had an okay year.
Now, that’s crazy, and I know I was a part of helping build that, but that’s crazy. And I think these young ladies understand the achievements they’ve done winning the regular season SEC and then what’s ahead of them. Yeah, it would be a huge it would be huge for these young ladies to go to the Final Four. I’m not I mean, it would be a fantastic opportunity for them.
Q. You were just in a battle with Louisville of sorts in recruiting. I assume they were kind of primary team you were competing with to get Mercedes Russell, and what does that say about Louisville’s program right there, that they’re competing for the top players in the country?
Coach Warlick: Well, I mean, I think they’re one of the top teams in the country. I think they’re in on a lot of kids, and we did go down to us and Louisville, and they recruited a kid they got. Recruiting is recruiting, and it’s a battle, and I think it’s who you need at the time and what the kid loves about their program and what they don’t. I think Mercedes just saw an opportunity at Tennessee maybe better than she did at Louisville. I don’t know, but I think we did both recruit her, and it went down.
But like I said, there’s kids on their team, we looked at Bria Smith, and so there’s kids that they’ve gotten that we didn’t get a chance to get. So it’s just part of recruiting and what you need and I guess how you fill your program.
Q. You talked about that ’99 game, and there’s obviously been big upsets in the women’s tournament before, but considering the era we’re in with ESPN, everybody knows where the games are, and then you have Brittney, such a transcendent player, almost like NASCAR people tune in to see the wrecks, last night people tuned in to see the giant fall. Did something like that almost need to happen to continue to push women’s basketball forward?
Coach Warlick: Well, I’m not going to say it’s not going to hurt, but I think that people wanted to see Griner play, as well. I’m sure they tuned in last night because a lot of Baylor’s games have not been very competitive. We went down to Baylor, and we were down 20 points before I could even put my hand up to call a time out. I’m sure that people didn’t watch it closely and then they followed it on the ticker last night, they probably went, oh, they tuned it in and started watching. But it works both ways. I think that people enjoy to watch great basketball, and then I think Baylor is a great basketball team, and then they want to see the underdog win. So I think it’s helped us both ways.
Q. You were talking about how much it would mean to go to the Final Four. People on the outside look at this team, it really has overachieved based on preseason, unlike a lot of other Tennessee teams. Do you still think the players, though, if they didn’t make the Final Four, would they feel like they underachieved?
Coach Warlick: Oh, I think so, most definitely. I mean, they kids think they’re we were preseason ranked in the 20, 22, 24 in the polls, and they’ve got a chip on their shoulder, and I think they carried that chip throughout the whole year. And I think they don’t see themselves as overachieved. I think they’ve seen themselves as a talented group coming together as one and playing together. Yeah, they’d most definitely be disappointed, but I don’t think they’ve ever thought they’re overachieving. I think they think that they’re becoming they’re getting better and they’re becoming into their own and playing pretty good as a team.
They just had a chip on their shoulder all year, and we’ve played the underdog role. In the past, not a lot of times Tennessee has been playing the underdog role, and this team needed that. They needed that. They needed somebody to tell them, look, you’re not really good right now and you have to work, and so they did. They went to work, and probably after the first loss they thought, you know what, we do, we need to get back to work and understand the importance of practice.
I’ve said this as a coach; you don’t want to coach effort, and I have not had to coach effort with this team. I’ve actually been able to coach and teach. And so when you get a team like that, you’ve got something special. They play hard, and that’s all I ask for them to do is play hard and play with a passion, and I think great things will happen because they are talented.
|LouisvilleCoach Walz: Just like to first say how honored we are to be playing here still. It was an unbelievable night for us last night, extremely proud of our entire team, and we’re excited about the new challenge in front of us.
I’d like to just say thank you to the NCAA. I mean, it’s been great because we’re sitting here in the same hotel with Tennessee, so we’ve just watched film together. We’ve already played a pickup game in the backyard and on the court. I mean, it’s been a great setup. We shared breakfast, we broke bread. It’s been wonderful.
So I just would like to say a thank you for the accommodations.
Q. Monique and Shoni, if you guys could answer, Coach was talking about the amazing night you had last night on the court, but I’m curious what these 12 or so hours have been like after last night. Can you talk about who you’ve heard from, did you get any sleep, stuff like that?
Monique Reid: Well, we still had curfew. So I mean, we got to enjoy it. I mean, all my family called me. I was lucky enough to have my mother here to enjoy it with, but I mean, at 10:30 phones were in and went to sleep.
Q. Mo, you were downstairs at 11:15.
Monique Reid: I was hungry. (Laughter.)
Shoni Schimmel: I actually got the opportunity to hang out with my family. They drove all the way from Oregon to be here, so I was with them for most of the night. We also had our fans there and our band there and our cheerleaders and whatnot in our hotel, so it was a busy night for the most part. But I think everybody hung out with their families and just kind of enjoyed it all together. It was a great opportunity for us to do what we did last night, and we embraced it.
Q. Antonita and Shoni, your coach said last night he needed 16 of 25 three?point shooting, didn’t know if you could even do that with more defenders on you. I was curious if either one of you ever counted how many threes you’ve made in a row in practice or just hanging out practicing on your own.
Antonita Slaughter: Well, no, I’ve never really counted how many I’ve made, but I know my teammates have confidence in me and that gave me a boost during the game.
Shoni Schimmel: Most of the time we’re just messing around after practice, so not really worrying about how many go in, it’s just kind of like just getting a feel for your shot and kind of shooting around.
I mean, last night the ball was going in the hoop, and so everybody took their shots. ‘Nita took hers, Jude, Sara, everybody. It was going in. Sheronne even shot three, Mo even shot three. We were all just shooting the ball, and it went in for us.
Q. Sara and Bria, if you guys could address what was it like to wake up this morning and turn on SportsCenter and see yourselves on the ticker? What’s it been like just to wake up and sort of be at the center of the buzz you guys have created?
Sara Hammond: I actually never turned on SportsCenter the whole night. I just put the TV and fell asleep, and this morning I woke up and it was on again. I was kind of reliving it all over again. No, I mean, like Mo said, we just celebrated after the game, and meeting Kevin Durant was like a big special moment for us. This morning we woke up, had breakfast together, went on a little walk and kind of just embraced the win last night. But we’re refocused now, looking for the game plan against Tennessee, and focusing our attention on them now.
Bria Smith: Yeah, it’s definitely an indescribable feeling. This is just amazing. We embraced the win last night and even this morning, but we’re refocused right now and we’re just trying to look forward to what we have to do for tomorrow.
Q. Monique, last night you said it felt like you were going to a Final Four but there’s still a game to be played. For you and Sara, how do you emotionally regroup to play another game?
Monique Reid: Well, I mean, of course we’re extremely excited about the win, but I mean, like today we’re just going to go out and practice and get this game plan ready and focus on Tennessee. But I mean, it’s still an amazing feeling, I feel like I’m going to the Final Four. I’ve been there before, and it’s just an amazing feeling.
Sara Hammond: Yeah, just like Mo said, it’s an amazing feeling. She’s been there before; they went to a national championship. But for some of us younger ones, the sophomores and freshmen, we’ve never experienced this, so to come in here and experience this and knock off the best team in women’s basketball right now is a tremendous feeling, and I’ll remember this the rest of my life.
But we’re focusing our attention again on Tennessee because we haven’t made it to New Orleans yet and that’s our whole goal, so we’re going to stay focused all throughout today and tomorrow.
Q. I was just wondering if you guys felt there were people that came out of the woodwork or anything like that last night that were contacting you? Did it seem like college basketball, women’s college basketball finally clicked with them?
Monique Reid: Well, I know I’m really good friends with Peyton Siva and he texted me last night, and he’s like, Coach P is going to text you. I mean, that was pretty cool getting a great game from them, and they played an awesome game, too. It was just really exciting, and everybody from high school was texting me. I’m the hometown kid, and I know everybody is really excited, and my dad was crying on the phone. It was very good. Everybody was contacting me, though.
Q. Shoni, to beat a team like Baylor or any upset, you have to have a certain amount of, for lack of a better way to put it, swagger. When you go out on the court you have to believe you can do it. You really showed that yesterday. Can you talk about how important that was and then how you carry that over against Tennessee?
Shoni Schimmel: I think the main thing was that we just believed that we could win. I mean, we talked about it all day yesterday, we’re going to go out there and win. We believed it as a group, but also from hearing it from our coaches, we just believed it even more.
For us to go out there and execute a game plan is just?? made it all come true. That’s what we need to do against Tennessee, too, just go out there and execute the game plan that our coaches are giving us and continue to believe not only in ourselves but what our coaches are telling us.
Q. Monique, I wanted to ask you as a person who has been to the Final Four, what do you say to your teammates who haven’t been there about how close you are and what it takes to take that next step to get to the Final Four?
Monique Reid: I mean, to be honest, you have to believe, because I mean, even my freshman year nobody thought we could do it. We beat Baylor in the Sweet 16, beat Maryland, nobody thought we could beat them. We beat Oklahoma, nobody thought we could beat them. I mean, it’s just you have to believe, and our coach put a great message in our head. We watched the Jimmy V story about NC State, and it just touched everybody’s heart because we felt like them yesterday, and I mean, like?? like a lot of them said, it was poetic justice. It was just an amazing feeling. That really touched our hearts. If we learned anything from Jimmy V, it’s never give up, and Coach Walz, being the great leader he is, he taught us to believe in each other and we’ve did that throughout the season, and we will not give up, I guarantee that.
Q. Sara, I’m all for believing, but I’ve watched 74 of 75 teams lose and all of them thought they could do it. If you could talk about specifically, Jeff is really known as one of the best Xs and Os people in all of college basketball, men’s and women’s. How important was it having his game plan, and how specifically did you follow that game plan to win yesterday?
Sara Hammond: Well, in order to pull this off, first of all, you have to have a great leader. We all look to coach Walz as our leader, and he’s been there, he’s been in that position, and we have 100 percent trust and 100 percent confidence in what he’s doing. And some people might think he’s crazy when they see him on the sidelines, but that’s Coach, and we go with it, and he gets us hyped and he has the perfect game plan.
I know a lot of teams, they just stick to what they’re used to and what their comfort zone is. He gets us out of our comfort zone and challenges us to go beyond what we think we can do, and it’s worked tremendous for us this year. You’ve just got to give him, I mean, 100 percent. I mean, I don’t even have words for the game plan that he put together.
We didn’t — honestly I don’t think we believed in ourselves that we could do it, but just the confidence and the belief that he had in us, I mean, you saw it last night how hyped we got. He’s a great leader, and we just follow with what he gives us.
Q. This is for any player who would like to address it and also for Jeff. Coach Mulkey was very critical of the officiating after that game. I wonder if any of you thought maybe that took away something from your victory because that became almost like a story unto itself.
Coach Walz: It saved me the time. I appreciated it, it saved me the time, too. I mean, it was a physical game. You know, it’s fun to be on my side because we don’t have a secretary in our women’s basketball office, so I answer my own phone and I get my own emails. And there’s nothing better than when you get an email from a 63 year-old ex-coach who’s telling me that I’m an embarrassment to the game because I told our kids to go out there and foul every time Brittney Griner touched the ball. That was never told. That’s not what we did. Our entire goal was to go out there and be vertical and get in her space and make sure she just couldn’t turn, catch and shoot, because if you allow that you’re not going to win.
There’s a reason they pay pretty good money to three officials to be out there on the floor, so our kids went out and played the game, and nobody seems to be concerned about the fact when our guards were getting body checked the entire time bringing the ball down the floor. Nobody cares about that. And that’s okay.
But, you know, it was a game that… it was a pretty intense game, and it’s a situation where you hope you have the best out there to be able to control it and contain it. But at times it may have gotten away. But I didn’t see my kids do anything that was out of line. I was proud of their effort. I thought we competed. I’ve always been told, and this is back to my 18 years of doing this and going to I’ve listened to clinics, listened to Rick Pitino, all the great coaches, Mike Krzyzewski, they always say, when you’re going into battle and you’re the underdog, you’ve got to throw the first punch. You’ve got to go out and throw the first punch, and we threw the first punch.
And if you’re afraid to get out there and be aggressive when you’re- I only know it because I heard it on ESPN, but when you’re a 24-and-a-half-point underdog, I mean, you can’t sit back on your heels and say, okay, you do what you want to do. So these young ladies here and the ones back in our locker room came out and threw the first punch. And then when you go seven of your first ten from three it doesn’t hurt, either.
Q. Shoni, you guys talked about refocusing. How do you do that when you have scored such a monumental upset? Sort of get me inside this team and how you do that, and then I want some numbers, text messages, friend requests, give me some numbers for the last 12, 16 hours.
Shoni Schimmel: Refocus for us, that game is over and done with now and we’ve got to move on to the next, and that is Tennessee. We’ve just got to focus as a team. I think we’re going to do a great job of that because we believe in our coaches and what they’re telling us. For us to just refocus is going to be the main thing we’re going to do, and it’s going to help us win on Tuesday.
Text messages, I think around 60 from last night and this morning, so I mean, I don’t know…I don’t have Twitter and I don’t really have Instagram.
Q. Mo, can you talk about the turning point in this season? You play in the Big East and all the focus was on Connecticut and Notre Dame but not as much on Louisville. Was there a turning point for you guys?
Moniue Reid: I definitely think after the Big East Tournament when we lost, we just wanted to come together and have a great tournament, and we knew that we’d have home-court advantage first and second round. I think that was our turning point, and we just got together as a team and practiced hard. I mean, that’s what we just started to believe in each other.
Q. I know you want to focus on this next game, but what you guys have been through, I think it probably unique. What has this last half day been like for you? You mentioned getting all your own emails. That has to be pretty crazy.
Coach Walz: No, it’s been fun. I mean, it’s a situation where I told our players to embrace it. It can arguably be called the greatest upset in women’s college basketball, and I know some people have argued this game or that game, but we’re sitting here playing with three starters that are not playing, that are out for the year. I mean, we have a great of young ladies that when the year started I felt really good about our team. I was like, hey, we have a chance to make a deep run. And then all of a sudden it’s one after another that go down.
But we had players that stepped up.
For us I really believe this season all hinged on the three weeks when Monique Reid went down after our Marquette game, and she missed six Big East games, and we won–I think we went 5-1 in that stretch. There were a few one?point games, two-point games, and it could have gone either way in about four of them, and we might not have even been in the tournament.
But our kids found a way to keep fighting, and that to me is what got things going.
Right now the most enjoyable thing that’s come about from this, and I just want to give Angel McCaughtry a little shout-out because she’s got a little Twitter war going on right now with RG3, going back and forth about his comments about our kids throwing upper cuts and all that stuff and she’s going back at him, and it’s been kind of humorous. But it just shows what our program is about. You’ve got a young lady who is without question the best player that’s ever played for us, and she’s four years removed, and she’s sitting there standing up for her program because she helped build this program and put it where it is.
And that means a lot to me because she still believes in what we’re doing. Her dad sent me a great text last night after the game, watched the entire game. It means a lot when you’ve got your ex-players that are sending you text messages. But when you’ve got someone like her going into a little Twitter war with someone like that, it just speaks volumes for her.
Q. Could you maybe address the development and the progression of Shoni on both ends of the court in the time she’s played for you?
Coach Walz: She’s come a long way. Offensively she can– like that lay-up she made was probably one of the best shots I’ve seen a kid make. But at the same time I’ve seen her do it in practice. It’s not like it’s the first time she’s done it.
I tell her all the time, she’s talented enough to play for anybody, but not anybody can coach her, because she’s going to do some things that are going to make you scratch your head like the one behind the back pass she threw off somebody’s head in the first half that I was like, Shoni, the girl was standing right in front of you. But I’m not going to take her out because I know that’s part of her game. And she’s learned to tone some of it down herself. And because of that, she’s becoming a much more rounded basketball player.
For us last night, I thought she took good shots. I really didn’t think she forced a bunch. In her freshman year she would have been pressing a lot, especially when they started to make their run. But she let the game come to her. The pass in the first half that she throws to Monique under the basket at the end of the half, about a 25-foot bounce pass that gets right to her for a lay-up, it’s not one that you see on SportsCenter, but boy, it was an impressive pass.
Defensively, you know, it’s not her strong suit. It’s not something we’re going to sit down and put her on the best offensive player on the other team. But what she does do, she understands the game. She floats around and freelances better than anybody on our team, which is good at times and bad at times. But she’s really learning when to pick the opportunities to try and go for a steal, when to try and go for a trap.
You know, I tell her all the time, you’ve just got to make sure you know the scouting report. You’ve got to know who you’re guarding. If you get switched off onto a shooter, you can’t go and double; if it’s a non?shooter, go ahead and try to get a steal.
But most importantly, I think she’s grown. I think she’s grown as a leader, as an individual. Her teammates have seen it. I think she’s seen it. Even on the pass last night that she threw on the sideline, the left sideline across from our bench in the second half, there was a nice pass to Antonita Slaughter that went straight through her hands. Right when it goes out of bounds, Shoni goes up to her and is like, that’s all right, that was my fault. And that to me– it wasn’t her fault. It was a great pass. But take the pressure off of someone else. That’s what teammates are supposed to do.
And I was just really, really pleased with that. And then when she fouled out, you know, every time-out, every dead ball, she’s getting the kids, she’s in the huddle– instead of pouting she’s encouraging, you guys can do it, you guys can do it.
And then you get Bria Smith to foul out, then Sara Hammond fouls out. When Mo went to the line to shoot the two shots there I was hoping both would go in because we did not want to play a five?minute more stretch without those three kids.
Q. It’s been a couple years since Tennessee has been to the Final Four and Pat is obviously not there. I wonder your viewpoint on their program, still very good but maybe not the air of invincibility of the team you just beat.
Coach Walz: They’re a great program. When you’ve got someone like Holly that’s been on the sideline as an assistant for 27 years, now she’s a head coach, it’s just going to keep going. It’s not like you’ve got someone who’s coming in new going to throw in new ideas, bring in their own just complete change to a system. So we know we’re going to have our hands full tomorrow night. We’re going to have to come out and play another great game.
But why not? I mean, no one expected us to be here today anyway. So what do we have to lose? I mean, again, I don’t think the pressure is on us, so we’re going to come out here, and I know our kids are going to compete and play hard and we’ll put a game plan together and we’ll see if we can’t go 16 for 23 tomorrow night.
Q. The other day you said you have friends that don’t watch the game because it was always the same. Did you get some people to say, hey, you converted me?
Coach Walz: No, but I did get a few to actually say they watched it from start to finish, which was great, because I’ve got some friends that I played college ball with where they were like I just actually watched the entire game and enjoyed it, and I text them back, there’s a lot more that are like this than you think. So hopefully going to be able to get three or four of them because I know the three that actually texted me all have daughters that I’m like, guys, you’re going to have to go watch them play one day, so you might want to start joining now.
That’s our goal, and I hope a lot of people had the opportunity to watch that game last night.
At the end there, it could have gone either way, but I think win or lose, and believe me, we’re fortunate enough to be up here on the winning side of it, win or lose it was still going to be a great day for women’s basketball just because of the excitement that we threw into it. Normally you don’t get even a game that’s coming down to the wire with your one seed versus your five seed. I mean, there’s a reason the line was what it was.
So I’m just tickled pink that our players did not worry about what everybody else was saying because nobody gave us a shot. Nobody at all. And I understood why.
Q. While you were coaching, Twitter was exploding about the women’s college basketball game, and that typically doesn’t happen. Do you feel or did you hear about just kind of that mass emotion from everybody? Do you feel like a lot of people came to women’s college basketball last night?
Coach Walz: Well, I hope so. I mean, it’s not that that was our goal starting off, but I know as an athletic department we strive hard to continue to grow our game, grow our fan base. We’re very fortunate to put close to 10,000 in the stands every night, and it’s been a six-year journey for us, but I know my first year we averaged about 3,300 to 3,500 fans a night, and now we’re at close to 10,000. So it can be done, it’s just a matter of getting out and selling your product.
We sign autographs after every home game, win or lose, and some games are tough. I mean, when you lose at home, it’s a tough one. But our players go to all four corners of the end zones and we sit there for 10 minutes on the clock, and we sign them. And I think giving the fans the opportunity to actually reach out and touch your players is what it’s all about. You have to give them the opportunity to feel like they’re a part of it, that they’re going through it with you. And if we can continue to do that, hopefully we’ll continue to grow our game.
Q. You sat up here the other day and talked about your game plan against Baylor, and it was score, score, score, and joking about putting up 16 threes, but Tennessee has proven to defend the three so well, they did it against Creighton. I was just wondering about your game plan going against the Lady Vols.
Coach Walz: Lay-up, lay-up, lay-up. If they’re going to guard the three, we’re going to shoot lay-up, lay-up, lay-up.
No, we’re going to have to go inside out. I mean, did I think we’d make 16 threes? No. But I knew we’d– did I plan on taking between 40 and 50? Yeah, I did plan on taking between 40 and 50. But when you go seven for your first ten, all of a sudden everybody start to pressure out on you, and we actually got some really nice drives mixed up into that.
So we’re just going to continue to play like we play. If we can go in the post and have an opportunity to score, we will. But if we’ve got to get inside and kick the ball out, we’ll shoot the three, too.
Q. I was just wondering, where is the line in enjoying what you guys did yesterday and now moving on? Do you at some point say we’re not talking about it anymore and we’re moving forward?
Coach Walz: No, life’s too short. I mean, you can go back and just watch our men’s game again yesterday when Kevin Ware breaks his leg. I mean, why tell the kids not to enjoy it? Now, we’re going to be focused to come out here and play tomorrow night, but again, we just had the biggest upset in women’s college basketball, ever. Now, it’s my opinion, but I’ve had a few that say the same thing. Why wouldn’t I want my kids to enjoy that?
Are we going to go out on the floor tomorrow night and go shake hands and say, hey, we beat Baylor? No, we aren’t going to do that. But we’re going to enjoy this, and we’re going to come out here and practice here shortly and we’re going to get prepared for it, and we’re going to have a game plan, then we’ll go back and eat and watch some more film and talk about what we’re going to do and come back out here tomorrow night and play.
You know, the one thing I do know is– the one thing I’ve learned about all this is when you get a chance to go to a Final Four as a coach, you normally have a lot of friends that like to buy you meals or whatever, a beverage, whatever it might be. I’ve already had text messages, about 300 of them, when you get to New Orleans, if you’re playing or not, the first beverage or food is on me. I’m like, boy, I’ll be eating for a month.
But you’ve got to enjoy this opportunity, and that’s what we’re going to do.
Q. You mentioned the men and what they did yesterday. How aware were your gals of that? How aware of what they were doing for you? And how much sleep did you get last night?
Coach Walz: The first part, we watched the entire first half of the men’s game, and then Candice Bingham here was giving me updates of the men’s game during our game, so I told her I wanted to know how the men were doing, and if she hadn’t done that at the under-eight media time-out when they interviewed me I was going to ask Rebecca how they had done, but since she told me they had won I didn’t have to do that.
And sleep, I mean, a few hours. You know, trying to get everything taken care of. Like I said, I get my own emails, my own texts, so I reply to all of them.
Q. Coach Warlick mentioned she tried to recruit a couple of kids she couldn’t get in on and you signed them and you guys just kind of went head to head with Mercedes Russell. Do you feel like now your program is at a level where you can compete with the established powers of the game for just about any recruit in the country?
Coach Walz: Well, I mean, we’re going to try and recruit the best. That’s what our goal is. Hopefully our game will continue to grow where you get players that are willing to go outside the norm, and again, that’s why the men’s game is so special. And I say in a good way, men are confident and arrogant enough to think you can go to any school and I’m going to take them to a Final Four. Women like the security. They like to say, hey, I’m going to go with my friend here, I’m going to go with my friend there. So it’s our job to try to find the players that are willing to say, hey, I think I can do this. I can sit here and come in and I see the players they have and we can get to a Final Four. It takes Angel McCaughtry, Candice Bingham, players that nobody thought that that team in ’09 ever had a chance at doing what we did. And then you’ve got to find players that have a bunch of heart. In that year we had Dez Byrd who played the point for us, and nobody ever thought she’d ever be a point guard. And then we had two freshmen that came off the bench in Becky Burke and Monique Reid that just did their roles. For us right now we’re trying to find those players that want to come to Louisville and help us get back to a Final Four, compete for a national championship.
But it takes a special player. It takes a special person, because you’ve got to have that belief in yourself that it’s okay to go against what everybody is telling you to do, because it’s a simple answer, go to this school, go to school there, go to school B. But if our game is going to continue to grow, we’ve got to continue hopefully to recruit these kids and get them convinced that it’s okay to do something different.