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April 2, 2008

Tara VanDerveer

RICK NIXON: Joined by Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer.
At this time some opening remarks from head coach, Tara VanDerveer.
COACH VANDERVEER: Good morning, everyone. Our team is thrilled to be the West representative in the 2008 Final Four. Our team, I think, has worked very hard. We have played a great schedule.
Everyone is very excited, and I feel that we're playing our best basketball at the right time. And we're really looking forward to our match-up with Connecticut on Sunday.

Q. A few days ago on the men's side where all the No. 1 seeds got through, there was a lot of talk about this could be the greatest men's Final Four ever staged. Can you talk about the women's field as it has developed with the four teams that have gotten here and players in terms of star power and what an attractive -- the attractiveness of the event could be in Tampa?
COACH VANDERVEER: I think it's a situation where you've got great teams coming to Tampa, and every team has a really -- very deep teams, but also every team at this point really does have tremendous individual talent.
For our team, Candice Wiggins, I think that she will be our first four-time all-American. She was already yesterday AP First Team. She is star among stars on our team.
Jayne Appel is a future all-American. She's a sophomore center. Kayla Pedersen was freshman of the year in the Pac-10 and is a fabulous, outstanding freshman. One of the top three freshmen in the country this year. And then, as every team, we have some really key role players that are stepping up and doing really well for us.
On each of the teams, whether it's Tennessee with Candace Parker, LSU with Sylvia Fowles, and Connecticut with Maya Moore, we're all bringing some really outstanding talent and it will be very exciting for the Florida fans to watch.

Q. In your experience, is this an unusually good field with everything that's happened with everybody that's been able to get there? Does it ever happen like this where you get this array of talent?
COACH VANDERVEER: Every year it seems like it is that way. But there might be some years where when I think back with all the different teams and all the great talent, this particular -- it seems like there's just like the real stars of women's basketball are really shining.
But unfortunately for women's basketball, in our situation, there's so many more stars. It's only four seats at the table. If Oklahoma had made it, you have a Courtney Paris, or Maryland with a Kristi Toliver and Langhorne. And there's great, great talent, and it's becoming deeper and deeper in women's basketball.

Q. I have two questions for you. First, if you could put your finger on one thing that's the difference between this team being able to go to the Final Four and the three years that you didn't, if there is one thing. And, also, have you heard from -- I know that Stanford alums are pretty close and you've been at the program a long time. Have you heard from a lot of the alums and just the excitement from the players the last several years?
COACH VANDERVEER: I'll answer that one first. As you said, the players, whether it's Jamila Wideman called me or Vanessa Nygaard, Charmin Smith, so many of the past players are so excited to see this team go to the Final Four. And Christy Hedgepeth, a lot of the players that went to three Final Fours in a row or won national championships have kind of felt the drought.
They really -- they're like, come on now, we went, how come you guys didn't go? I know Geno would get some text messages maybe from Diana Taurasi of, come on now, what's going on with Connecticut?
So the former players really are out there and are watching and are very, very supportive, I'm sure, of all their teams. But we have that same kind of camaraderie with our alums.
As far as why does a team -- we go to the Elite Eight three years or four years out of the last five. And why does this team, what is it about this particular team to get into the Final Four versus maybe some of the other teams that haven't? And, you know, it's kind of interesting. I think you were probably there in Kansas City, you watched different teams, but this particular team has -- we've really rested this team and I felt so much better going into the Regional final game.
Our preparation, we were able to prepare for kind of look beyond -- we didn't ever look ahead, but we worked ahead. We were more efficient. We were really ready for our Monday night game in a way that I have not felt maybe in some other Elite Eight championship games.
And I also think that this particular team has a really special leader in Candice Wiggins. And everyone on the team has taken their role and embraced it. Whether it's playing one minute a game, like someone like Morgan Clyburn has come in and had been valuable in short spurts.
I think the camaraderie and the closeness of everyone is -- it's always special, but it just feels really extraordinary this year.

Q. A lot has been made this year about the impressive season UConn has had because they've overcome some injuries. You have as well. Can you talk about how you've overcome your injuries?
COACH VANDERVEER: It's really hard. I really feel great empathy for Geno and his staff. And there's so many coaches in women's basketball that have to deal with -- especially the three letter that we all hate -- the ACL injury.
We were back in Connecticut when we played Yale and we had our first injury. We were at the same tournament in Connecticut in the Virgin Islands when we had our second injury.
At the time, our team was really so young that one of the players was a former starter from last year, Melanie Murphy. And the other one I thought maybe had the potential of being a starter for us.
Now, obviously with Connecticut they had two clear starters that went down. It just reminds you, you know, when you have those injuries, it is really, really tough on you and your staff and your team. But it just reminds you kind of how fleeting your success is.
If you're doing really well, just to enjoy it. And for me more than anything, it's just enjoy the journey, because things can happen. And it also -- with those injuries, it really has changed our late-season practice routine in terms of the less contact that we do.

Q. Have your kids had to step up? You kind of -- UConn, they keep talking about how a lot of the kids saw this as an opportunity and a mandate, that they had to step up. Did your other players do that?
COACH VANDERVEER: Yes, actually it wasn't as much with our ACLs, but when Jillian Harmon had a stress fracture -- and she was a starter for us and she's just coming back now. But she was out basically for seven weeks or eight weeks.
And in the meantime other people did have to step up, and I think in some ways for our team it was a really beneficial thing because she was coming back. And almost like while she was gone everyone did get a chance to play more and just they had to.
And that's the great thing about teams and when you have young people that are really competitive. And we don't recruit players for our team that aren't capable. And sometimes it's just like -- I call it the champagne effect: You have to open that cork and they come bubbling out. That's what they've done at UConn and that's what they're doing for us.

Q. Back in the '90s, mid-'90s, it seemed like a given you guys would make it to the Final Four every year. Did you ever think it would take so long and be so hard to get back there?
COACH VANDERVEER: You know, it is really hard. And I think it always has been. And I think things have changed a lot in the last 10 years. And maybe that was because of some of the great teams that we had or some of the great teams that Connecticut had.
But women's basketball has really caught on all over the country. And there's more competition for players. And, I mean, I will just give an example. When I first came to Stanford, I don't really think there was much of -- there really wasn't a quality program in terms of the resources and the excitement that's going on in the ACC.
So we could really easily outrecruit Duke. So I think that -- now, whether it's -- I mean, the ACC or Big East, you see it's more competitive in the Big East than it was early on for Geno. And it's becoming more competitive. We want it to be more competitive in the Pac-10.
So when you go -- every time we've ever been, I never assume that we can ever go back. I just try to really enjoy the opportunity of being there. And this is our seventh trip as a program, and my sixth as the head coach. And it's thrilling. We're really ecstatic. Do I hope we go again? Yes. I hope we go -- it won't be 11 years for me, because I don't think I'll be coaching 11 years from now.

Q. I'm wondering how you feel about carrying the banner basically for the West Coast?
COACH VANDERVEER: We do play in the West Regional and I guess we do feel that, yes. There is some maybe just because of time zone things, a lot of people are not familiar with West Coast basketball. There's some people that don't think there's much going on in terms of great basketball on the West Coast.
So we do feel that we are representing the West Coast, not just the Pac-10, but all the West Coast programs, and we want to do a great job.

Q. Follow up on that West Coast, do you have any ideas, thoughts why the Pac-10 hasn't gotten as strong and as deep as the ACC and the Big East at this time?
COACH VANDERVEER: Could you restate the question? I'm not sure exactly what you're asking me.

Q. You carry the banner for the West Coast. And there's a couple other teams, but we're not getting eight teams out of the Pac-10, which is a premiere conference out here. You got a feel why it's not quite as strong or as deep?
COACH VANDERVEER: You know, I think there's probably a lot of reasons, but one thing, geographically, we're different. There's not as many schools out here. I think that there's more of a population base back East.
And the other thing, they really get to play -- I think they can play great competition without maybe having huge travel expenses. The best thing for us this year has been playing a great schedule. Going to Rutgers, going and beating Rutgers at Rutgers, beating Tennessee. Playing UConn in the tournament. Playing Old Dominion in the Paradise Jam. Beating Baylor.
Competition, I think, is the best thing to help. And what we also have to do on the West Coast is we have to keep our great players that are in the West Coast -- we have to keep them at home. And some of that I think is related to television. They might see East Coast programs and a lot of times we grow up thinking that something is better where we're not. Like we're in the West Coast, East Coast is better, or when I was on the Midwest, Southern basketball was better. But we have great basketball on the West Coast.
And we need it to develop. And we also need I think really it's a mistake by kind of people in women's basketball to discount West Coast basketball, because that weakens women's basketball. When West Coast basketball is recognized and respected and better, it's better for all of women's basketball.

Q. I wanted to ask you about, you were talking about the change in competition for women's basketball. You may get asked this a lot. Can you just talk about how far women's basketball has come over the past, let's say, decade or so to where the Final Four is now and also how that's changed no only the way the programs are kind of accepted by the public, but also how it's changed the talent pool in terms of the girls who are coming up and the increased talent that you're seeing as you go out and recruit girls?
COACH VANDERVEER: I think there's always been really outstanding female athletes and young girls that love basketball. But now what you're talking about is you have more opportunity, when you have more basketball camps, more summer programs, AAU programs, tournaments that the young girls can go to, the high school programs. I mean, just so many opportunities.
And I think the NCAA has just done a fabulous job of running a first-class event and a tournament that everyone wants to go to. Every college player wants to play in a NCAA tournament. It's such a first-class event. And you have the television exposure. And scholarships, obviously scholarships to pay for college educations. And then professional opportunities.
So the word for me is "opportunity," where then coaches have full-time positions and strength coaches and all the travel that's involved and someone can actually have a career coaching women's basketball or playing women's basketball.
The talent pool is becoming deeper and deeper because it's becoming more competitive. And I think it's a great thing. And I think it's really important as a mentor and a coach to keep it all in perspective and to have the experience be a great experience for our student athletes in every way, shape and form.

Q. Do you find, then, you're having to sell women's basketball less and less as the years go by than, say, you were when you first started out in this game?
COACH VANDERVEER: I don't feel like I've ever had trouble selling it to student-athletes. They love playing it. I think we still -- we still have a big challenge of selling women's basketball to the public, increasing our fan support, really positioning ourselves so that every regional, every First Round and Second Round is sold out.
We really want people to see -- personally, I feel like our game with Maryland hopefully it was a great game, exciting game, not just for Stanford and Maryland, but for fans to watch. We want to see well-played basketball. And it's something that it's our challenge to kind of -- we can't be preaching to the choir.
We've got to get outside the women's basketball fans and get to the kind of the public and say, hey, come out and support and see how great this sport is.

Q. Sorry to ask you to reflect back on 1995 when you guys played UConn when they were on their way to an undefeated perfect season, just your thoughts maybe going into that Final Four and it's been a while. But that challenge. And also if you could talk about the fact that three of the coaches in the Final Four are Olympic gold medal winners as coaches.
COACH VANDERVEER: When I think about 1995, that's amnesia. That was really a first tough game. Connecticut played exceptionally well. We really couldn't do much anything right. And we also saw them shoot a lot of free throws in that game. I don't think it was an exceptionally well-played game. I guess I'd rather think about our tennis -- the game we played against Connecticut in Kansas City.
I look back, I think that was their year. I don't know that this is anyone's year. We've played -- we didn't play exceptionally well when we played Connecticut the first time. But I feel we are such a different team and they're really a different team, too. So I don't know that there's any -- there's not any team coming in undefeated or that kind of is on a mission.
Everyone to me kind of has an equal shot at this thing. I don't think anybody is coming in heads and shoulders above anyone else.
As far as the gold medal situation, you know, every coach has been to the Olympics. I know Geno was an assistant -- and coaches actually don't get gold medals. But we've all had a part in international basketball. And I think that was a really exciting time for me personally.
And I think it's a great experience. It's probably something that's helping me with our coaching as it helps Pat and as it has helped Van and Geno also.

Q. I was just wondering if you could talk about Candice Wiggins and her leadership in this tournament so far and her match-up with the UConn back-court on Sunday.
COACH VANDERVEER: Sure. Candice is a senior. And the last three years she's gone to the Final Four as an all-American. We would sit there watching maybe the high school after our game or doing something, and I would say, Candice, let's come back with our team.
And she really puts this team on her back. She is a fabulous leader and she will do whatever our team needs. If we need her to play defense or rebound or be a point guard, she likes to score and she does that really well, but she'll do whatever. I think great players are players that bring out the best in other people around them. And she does that. She's really a great teammate. It will be a very tough match-up with either Swanier or Renee Montgomery, exceptionally talented players. Very, very athletic and quick. And I know that it will be a great challenge for Candice, but I know that she's up to it and very excited to play UConn again.

Q. How has your team changed and improved since the first UConn game? Obviously they beat you, but they're a different team now having coped with the injuries. How have you guys improved since then so you believe that you can win on Sunday?
COACH VANDERVEER: When Connecticut won last night against Rutgers -- and that obviously was a big win for them -- that's where I started. I started watching our tape against them in November.
Honestly, I didn't even recognize the team I was coaching. We're doing different things on offense. I think our defense has really improved. We are starting Candice Wiggins and basically everyone else was pretty new to our starting lineup. Ros Gold-Onwude is coming off a ACL.
I just didn't recognize our players out there. Whether it was freshmen, Kayla Pedersen, sophomore Jayne Appel. And we weren't doing anything -- we didn't look like anything we look right now.
And UConn, I think, started out of the gate really fast. We were not ready for them when we played them in November. But I will tell you that our UConn game was something that helped us more than really -- I think our UConn game helped us as much or more than any other game this season.
Our team saw the pace that we wanted to play at. Our team saw just -- they just saw this team that was a machine in November. And we're like, we're not there, but that's where we want to be.
Obviously our other -- I think our win against Tennessee was also something that really helped our team in terms of our confidence and just believing that we are a Final Four team. And so I just feel like -- I mean, UConn has done so well without now Thomas and Greene. But they've done so well without them and that's a real credit to Geno and their team and their staff.
But if they were healthy, I mean, they would want them back. We've gotten better since we played them. We're not even close to the same team. It's the caterpillar and butterfly. When I look at it, where we were then is nowhere we are now.

Q. When you watched UConn play Rutgers last night, were they not the same machine?
COACH VANDERVEER: I think it would be hard to be the same machine without those two great players. Obviously they have done exceptionally well. But they're not -- if they had them back, they'd love to have them back. And that game could have gone either way. Whereas our game, when we played Connecticut early, was not the -- kind of the result was never in doubt. They really started head and shoulders above us.
But I feel like we've really closed the gap. I don't think we were ready to play them in November, but I know we're ready and we're very excited to have the opportunity to play them now.
RICK NIXON: Thank you, Coach.

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