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NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 2, 2008
RICK NIXON: We're joined by University of Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt.
Q. I just wanted to jump out, this is more of a Final Four field question. But Tara and Stanford getting back in the first time in 11 years. I wanted to get your thoughts on that.
COACH SUMMITT: Well, obviously just watching their game, terrific effort. And Candice Wiggins was not going to be denied, but she just really stepped up in a huge way. And Tara does such an awesome job year in, year out. I know this team is a very special team for her. And I'm really excited for Tara as well as the Stanford program.
Q. Two quick questions. One, LSU and Connecticut, the only two schools that have gone to this thing five times in a row. LSU, outside of the first time they played y'all back in New Orleans, the games have never been really close. Anything that you can see that -- I mean, going to a Final Four five straight times, not making a national championship game is very rare. Anything specific that you may point to saying, well, this has been a constant problem or this has been a constant just, I guess, bump in the road? And my other question is the familiarity with both of you all. You're playing -- this is the third time around. Does it make the game even more exciting despite the fact that the winner gets to play for a national championship?
COACH SUMMITT: I think, first of all, making five trips, consecutive trips to the Final Four is special in itself. And the fact that LSU was able to do that again to keep that streak going against obviously a very fine North Carolina team, it just speaks to their focus and their desire to get back to that Final Four stage.
And, I guess, just meeting them obviously in the first game there is my thoughts is they're a tough team. And the fact that they haven't been in that championship game probably is a bigger concern for us than anything, because certainly they appear to be a team on a mission.
The fact that we have played them, they're familiar with us, we're familiar with them, and it becomes an environment of who brings it and for 40 minutes and who makes the big plays. And they've got big-play people and we do too. And I think it's going to be an awesome game.
And I think that the fact that we are familiar, maybe there's not, in some people's mind, as much preparation that goes in. But I think at this point in time both programs, both teams are probably looking for where they can get an advantage. And I think we just have to go play and definitely have to bring our A game.
Q. Pat, any update on Candace's condition? Have you talked to Jenny today or talked to Candace today?
COACH SUMMITT: I've talked to Candace today and Jenny. I think Candace is obviously dealing with some soreness, but she seems to be doing well. So I think Candace -- she amazed me the fact that she came back and managed to do what she did in that game and certainly seems to be feeling a lot better today overall.
Q. So sometimes sleeping on an injury like that makes it worse. Doesn't seem to be any worse?
COACH SUMMITT: No, she sounded great. She said she was sore. But you expected that. I think the good thing for Candace is she's so strong. She has worked so hard in the weight room. And I think that certainly worked to her advantage last night in being able to go back in the game as well as being ready to play when we get to Tampa.
Q. You have no doubt that she'll be ready to go?
COACH SUMMITT: I feel really good about it. I think we've got some time to rest and I want to rest her. But I definitely feel like she's going to be ready to play.
Q. One more quick question. She's made herself in a -- a real classic low post player, in-the-paint player in the this season. Do you see a lot of that coming out of her experiences internationally, the number of moves she's developed, her comfort zone down low, the whole bit about being a low post player as opposed to more of a permanent player?
COACH SUMMITT: I think the international game and just the role she was put in there that definitely helped her tremendously. And I also have to give credit to Dean Lockwood who works with her every day at Tennessee and the offensive package that he has helped her develop on the low block and just the repetitive drills that he's put Candace and our post people through.
So I think it's a combination of both. And certainly the international game, I think it helped Candace develop some real toughness and aggressiveness in the post game.
Q. With all the games you've played against them, what about Sylvia concerns you the most going into this game on Sunday?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, I think that LSU does a great job of the high-low game and getting Sylvia touches that can lead to direct scoring opportunities. She does a great job of keeping the ball off the floor. Plays out the rim.
Just within their offensive schemes, again, they put her in a position to be very, very successful and you have to decide are you going to guard her with a player, player and a half? Are you going to trap her? Because she's going to put up points.
When you talk about low block players, I mean, I put her as one of the best. Obviously, I'm a real partial to Candace's game there as well.
But I do think that Sylvia is really tough to defend because of where they get her the ball.
Q. Is there any danger that this fit between you and Geno, that story line, could be a black cloud over the Final Four? And do you feel any need to clear it up so we can stop speculating? And is there any chance that this series could be resumed?
COACH SUMMITT: Actually, I have no comment on anything other than getting ready to play LSU. I think the Final Four is going to be -- there's four great teams there. I think there's going to be a lot of excitement and certainly don't anticipate any black cloud, at least certainly I'm not going to present one.
Q. Any chance the series could be resumed?
COACH SUMMITT: I have no comment right now on that. Again, I'm just looking for our team to be prepared to take the court against LSU, and that's really all I have to say about that.
Q. You probably get asked this a lot. Can you talk about the state of the women's game and how far it's come since you first started? And particularly in terms of the Final Four and what a showcase event it is, you know, for the game at this time, as one of the coaches said earlier, not always preaching to the converted but to the crowd that maybe doesn't see women's basketball the rest of the year or much of the rest of the year?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, I think no question but what the Final Four -- it's the biggest stage of the year for women's basketball and obviously it is a place to showcase the women's game and just the type of play that you see now in the women's game and the skill, the athleticism, the speed.
To me, it's the best it's ever been. And I think this is the way that we continue to grow our game, by having this type of platform, but also I think within our regional championship games and just looking at the interest there and the play, I mean, you had some great teams and some great games and some close games.
And I think a little bit deeper number of teams now that can challenge for a Final Four appearance and the Regionals, I think the Regionals really helped in terms of people seeing the state of women's basketball and where it is now and how much better it is than maybe five years ago, maybe three years ago.
Q. All the other coaches talked about how hard it is to get back to the Final Four. Do you find it's getting tougher and tougher every year and is part of that as a result of the increased talent level that you're out there recruiting year after year because more and more girls are getting interested in basketball from a younger and younger age?
COACH SUMMITT: Absolutely. I think if you look at all the AAU programs and all of the young girls and young women that are really committed to working on their game in the off season, as well as being involved with some very competitive opportunities through AAU, certainly our talent pool has grown significantly.
And that has allowed us to certainly field more quality teams with quality players throughout the country. And it is very competitive. Recruiting is more competitive than it's ever been.
But I think that is all good for our game and as a result, that's what we see now is the teams that take a Texas A&M, for example, and what they did and putting themselves in a Regional championship game. And I think there will be more teams that will be challenging in the future and it will be more difficult.
Last night for us was -- that was a tough battle to get back. And I think it's not going to change. It's probably even going to be more difficult to get to a Regional much less to a Final Four.
Q. Could you just go in a little more detail with Candace's injury situation, what has your medical staff told you about risk of further injury?
COACH SUMMITT: Actually, I have not talked with anyone other than Jenny Moshak. At this point Jenny was very optimistic. I know Candace has been evaluated. And as far as I know, she's good to go.
Q. Have you been able to give her, Candace, any input on how to handle a shoulder that pops out of joint?
COACH SUMMITT: (Chuckling). I think that she gave me a bad time when mine went out, but I didn't give her a bad time. I was just very concerned, because obviously I didn't have to play and she does.
I think right now she's just feeling a little bit of soreness. I think she's obviously looking forward to going to Tampa and we certainly will treat her with Jenny in the training room and I'm very confident she'll be ready to go.
Q. I wanted to ask you if you could talk a little bit about -- I know there's been a lot of talk about Candace from last night because of her injury or if you could talk about your other players how they stepped up when she was out, particularly Nicky. Talk about her leadership and some of the others. And also piggybacking on the notion it's so hard to get back to the Final Four, do you have -- I know you have to play them, have to beat them, but do you have a special feeling with Coach Chancellor getting his first chance to the Final Four?
COACH SUMMITT: I was excited for Van. You look at his credentials and obviously won WNBA championships and an Olympic gold and I hear him say I've never coached in the Final Four. And I think this is something that obviously he has worked really hard at, and taking over an LSU team and going in and doing such a great job. And he has changed some things, but he obviously still stayed with their motion offense.
And I think he's allowed them freedom to play their game and I just really have been impressed with how he handled the transition and managed this very talented team. I was excited for him.
I've known Van for years and his wife Betty. We've been great friends and he asked me to escort him when he was inducted into Naismith. And I'm proud of what he's accomplished and it hasn't changed him. He's the same down to earth, just great guy. And I know he's thrilled because he said he just didn't want to be the first not to get a team, not to get his team there.
Q. Then about your players from last night, your other players, the way they stepped up?
COACH SUMMITT: I'm really pleased. Nicky Anosike has great leadership skills and toughness in adversity. We were definitely faced with some adversity with Candace's injury and obviously the physicality of that game and the fact that it was very physical and there were no free throws shot until under the ten-minute mark of the second half.
So it was up-and-down basketball, and obviously very aggressive by both teams. And I thought we hung in there and hung tough. Obviously Alexis stepped up and played big for us down the stretch.
With Candace out we needed to be as strong as possible defensively. And I thought that was the biggest change I saw without Candace, our commitment when we were struggling offensively to not falter on the defensive end. And we made some great defensive plays. Shannon Bobbitt did not play well, but managed late in that game to do some really good things as well.
We definitely fought through some adversity and had some players that we counted on to step up for us come through.
Q. Can you talk about the players on a long-term level how it will affect them and their lives?
COACH SUMMITT: You're speaking at being at a Final Four?
COACH SUMMITT: I think it's a great opportunity for them. It's a great source of pride knowing that this group can say obviously that they had a chance to go back to the Final Four after the 2007 championship, which that was a tremendous feeling for them. And I think sometimes when you're in that position and trying to get back, it's a little more involved, maybe feeling a little bit more pressure.
But as I said earlier, the biggest stage in women's basketball, and to be on it again, back-to-back years, something that I know our seniors will cherish for a lifetime. They'll be telling their kids about it, and probably embellish the stories a little bit.
I think this group really feels -- they have an excitement about going, but I think at the same time they really want to somehow figure out a way to be in that championship game, like every other team will feel. And I just -- I like where they are. It's not like they're just proud to be there.
Q. I was wondering, when you're going in facing a team you've played twice already and that you play regularly each season, is it easier to rest your players in this sort of situation, just considering Candace and probably how tired everyone else might be at this point?
COACH SUMMITT: Obviously it doesn't matter whether it's LSU or Stanford that we're playing, I think this time of the year it's not a time to feel like you've got to be on the court for extended periods of time.
We're off today. It will be light tomorrow. We'll travel on Friday. I haven't decided whether we're going to get on the floor or not. I think rest is what we need. I think the mental fatigue can also set in. If they feel they've got to watch more tape or go through more scouting sessions.
So at this point we will definitely keep in mind that we need our legs and we need to be mentally sharp as well. So I think less is more in this situation.
Q. Two questions. Much attention, rightfully so, will be on Candace and Sylvia, the all-Americans. How important is the battle between kind of the mighty-mites and Erica and Shannon? Could you also reflect on the fact that there will be 10 seniors taking the court with these two starting lineups, Candace has a year of eligibility, but academically, as a senior, and what that says about these two programs to have kids who are seniors and them going against each other as much as they have?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, certainly both teams have veteran players. Both teams have players that have been there, been at a Final Four and understand what to expect. I think it's going to make for just a great match-up, because we are familiar. Not like we have to do extensive scouting. Nor do they have to do it.
It's just about which team can battle and be standing in the end. There's a part of me that says that it makes the preparation less, but at the same time with the play of Sylvia. And obviously, to me, they're a little more balanced. And obviously Chaney, she's a player that can put up the deep 3s and Erica is pushing the ball hard.
I think the match-up with Erica and Shannon is going to be a key match-up. It may be as important as any match-up on the floor in terms of the point guard play and also just looking with Candace and Sylvia and what they bring to their respective teams.
So it should be a great one.
Q. How would you defend Maya Moore, Coach?
COACH SUMMITT: You think I'm going to give any secrets away just in case? Maya Moore is obviously a great player. With any great player, just like with Candace, most of the schemes are designed to try and limit touches.
But as you can see, people have a hard time limiting Candace's touches. They have a hard time limiting Maya's touches. And just the athleticism that she has and the speed and the quickness and the change of speed, she's certainly a difficult player to defend.
Q. Have you -- let's say outside of Candace, have you ever seen a freshman who has been better than her?
COACH SUMMITT: Gosh, I'd have to go -- I go back several years on this. Cheryl Miller was obviously very, very talented at that time as a freshman. I think she would probably be the comparison with Maya.
It reminds a lot of Tameka Catchings. She reminds me a lot of Tameka, except she has a better outside game. But she plays so hard. She truly is one of the best freshman I've seen in the women's game.
Q. You've had a chance to coach in a couple of Final Fours that are played in domes. I was wondering do you recall any positive or negatives that came from that experience and any thoughts on which for the long haul is better for the women's game, arenas or domes?
COACH SUMMITT: I think it's a little more difficult in a dome as far as shooting the basketball, at least that seems to be what players would tell coaches. And maybe that's why shooting percentages might be affected.
But I like the idea of more people being able to see the Final Four. And certainly arenas have been very appealing. There's no question about that. And I think just being in Cleveland last year and that venue was -- I thought it was just great for the women's game.
RICK NIXON: Thank you for joining us.
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