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April 1, 2009

Jeff Walz

RICK NIXON: I'll ask Louisville head Coach Jeff Walz to jump on with opening comments and then we'll take questions and answers. Jeff.
COACH WALZ: Thank you. You just first like to start off with what a great opportunity we have in front of us with the chance to compete in the Final Four here starting up on Sunday.
We've just got an outstanding group of young ladies that have bought into a system, a belief and a style of play over the past two seasons, and it really started to come together for us about a month and a half ago and just couldn't be more proud of the group.
We're excited about the opportunity to not only represent our university but also to be one of two teams from the Big East playing in the Final Four.
So we're excited, and hopefully we'll give you all a good show.
RICK NIXON: Questions for Coach.

Q. Coach, on and off the court, how much does Angel live up to her first name?
COACH WALZ: You know, she's an outstanding young lady. She's really matured these past two years. On the court everybody sees what she does. It's no secret.
She plays with such passion and such intensity. And off the court she's just a joy to be around. Not just as someone that always brings a laugh and a smile to us as coaches and players, but a lot of the young girls around our city come to our games, they want her autograph. Angel's at our softball games. She goes there, signs autographs.
She's really good in our community. And that really says a lot about her.

Q. I'm sure you thought of this; I know other folks in Louisville probably have as well. The notion that the men's team, of course, was the No. 1 seed and I guess most people probably thought they'd make the men's Final Four and I'm guessing probably a lot of folks didn't necessarily think you would make the women's Final Four. Could you talk about that and the mood on the campus with you guys making it and the men not making it?
COACH WALZ: Well, everybody's excited for the fact that we're playing here in the Final Four. And at the same time, sure, everybody's kind of upset at times that our men aren't playing.
We sat there as a team and watched our men play and cheered them on and rooted as hard as we could, because we've got a great relationship with both programs. Coach Pitino has been nothing less than spectacular to us as a staff and as people. He allows us to come and watch practice any time we want. He'll sit down and talk Xs and Os. He's great. And his players come to our games.
We've got a lot of respect for their program. They've been great for us, and we're sad to see him get beat. But they had a great season also.

Q. Did Coach Pitino call you or get in touch with you after you made the Final Four?
COACH WALZ: Yeah, he got in touch with us, with me and wished us luck and said he was proud of how hard we played. And said he'll be following us as we go up to St. Louis.

Q. How different is the feeling this time in the system going in 2006 with Maryland and how much does that experience help you organize for a team that's a first-time team at a women's Final Four?
COACH WALZ: The feeling is the same. It's something you dream about as a coach to have a chance to compete in a Final Four and hopefully you get there at least once, and then once you get there once you want to get back.
But I'm really excited. And I told our kids and I told the rest of my staff that I love what I do. I love the feeling of the competition and competing during the games as a coach. But I really wanted our players and the rest of our staff to have this opportunity to feel what it's like.
To watch our kids cut the nets down after the Regional final game and see the screams of joy and the tears of joy and just the hugs was an unbelievable feeling for me. We work hard here. We push these kids.
I mean, I think we're probably the only team in this Final Four that doesn't have a high school All-American on the roster.
We've got a group of kids that have just bought into what we're doing. And our motto is we might not be the most talented team on the floor, but we've got to outwork somebody.
And I think we've bought into that. And these kids have worked extremely hard. I'm just really, really excited for them to have this chance. And what I took from our trip at Maryland was to make sure that you enjoy it.
I'm going to make sure our kids enjoy every second of it. We're going to get out and do as much as we can, make sure they're a part of it. I don't want this just to be we're going to play a basketball game. All of our road trips that we go on, when we go up to New York and play, we try to go downtown and eat. We try to get them places. I want them to experience the city. I want them to be able to soak in what it means to be playing in a Final Four.
And at the same time, I can promise you we're going to practice, we're going to prepare, and we'll have a game plan. And I feel pretty confident that our kids will come out and play hard.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about the improbable way this team's kind of come together with so many players who initially signed the other schools and then I know you didn't recruit most of them in after they signed elsewhere, but just the things that had to happen for these players to come together?
COACH WALZ: Sure. It's something that -- things happen for a reason. Angel McCoughtry, she signed with St. John's out of high school, then had to go to prep school to try to raise up some academics, and after that went on some more visits and decided to sign here at Louisville. Candyce Bingham, her high school is a stone's throw from our gymnasium here. But she decided to go up to Xavier.
After two years there, and just wanting a change, she transferred back home. Our freshman Becky Burke, she signed with South Carolina, committed there out of high school. And then when they had their coaching change, she decided to look for another school. She came down here and saw campus and visited, and within a day decided to come here.
So we've got a lot of players that have ended up here. I think they love it and are now buying in to what we're trying to do. And they've really been a big part of making history here at Louisville.

Q. Have you ever seen anything kind of like this where so many different people have had to kind of alter their plans to form such a successful team?
COACH WALZ: No, really, I haven't, to be honest. And actually our starting post player, Chauntise Wright, who is out with an ACL, started fourth last year, signed with Seton Hall out of high school and academically had to take care of a few things, and ended upcoming here also.
So we've got four kids on our roster that did not sign their initial letter of intent with Louisville, and because Tise can't play right now the other three are playing very, very important parts in our success.

Q. Jeff, can you just talk about the improvement of Deseree' Byrd and what she's meant to this team? And before the year the one thing you said was you didn't have a point guard, and I don't know that she's a true point guard, but she's got you to a Final Four, and what she's done to improve?
COACH WALZ: Yeah, she sure has. At the end of last year, when we finished up, I gave it about a week and called Des into the office and said, Hey, we've got some work to do. We've got to drop some weight and you're going to be our starting point guard. She looked at me a little crazy and said, Okay, that's what I've got to do.
So she worked her tail off her entire summer on her ball-handling skills, being able to understand the game and see the game from the point guard spot.
And it's not the same. It's like I tell everybody. You talk to players and you talk to coaches. The point guard's got everybody in front of them. You're normally looking at nine people. The one that's guarding you and you've got eight more, four on offense, four on defense, and you've got to read the movements of both teams. You've got to know where your players are cutting.
You've got to know how they're trying to defend it. Where if you're the 2 guard, the off guard, you're looking back. So you don't have as much responsibility normally. So Des had to learn the entire game from a different viewpoint. And it started off as a little bit of a struggle. But the kid wanted to do it.
We needed her to do it. And I kept telling her: You're going to learn with experience. There's no -- practice can't prepare you for what she needed to do and as games went on, she just continued to get a little bit better, a little bit better each game.
And when you look at us, when we throw out our starting lineup, I'm sure everybody is not going, Wow, she looks like a true point guard. But by the time the night's over, everybody's impressed with what she's done.

Q. How much, though, has she come along this year? Could you put it into as far as a percent, from where she was at the beginning?
COACH WALZ: She's 60 percent, at least, better of a point guard right now than she was when the season started. She's starting to understand when it's her time to take it.
When the season started, she wasn't looking to score much, because she thought, well, the point guard doesn't score. I finally had to get her to understand I need my point guard to score the way we play.
So she continued to develop, and I've been just really, really impressed how she's continued to grow this entire year. Not only with hopefully our final two games, but I'm excited because hopefully next year I can move her back to the 2 and I've got a point guard coming in.
And now I'll almost have two point guards on the floor. So I think our future is really bright, because of what she's been able to learn for us this year, and especially with the success that she's had.

Q. Coach, about this next game, what do you look at when you go up against a team like this, and how nice would it have been to have Chauntise Wright in this next game?
COACH WALZ: It's one of those -- we don't even worry about not having Chauntise. We haven't had her the whole year. It's a tall task. It's going to be a battle.
They've got a little bit of everything, and they've got players that know their jobs and do it well. Courtney Paris, you know, she's a force on the inside, and she's been playing well.
We've got to figure out a game plan to try to not give her a bunch of easy looks. But I think that's easier said than done because that's what everybody's been trying to do all year.
Then you've got Danielle Robinson, who does a great job, very athletic, attacks the basket, can get to the rim. And the kid's a 90 percent free-throw shooter. Then you come down to Ashley Paris, you have Whitney Hand, who is just shooting the ball unbelievable right now.
We've got a game. It's going to have to be something, again, where we have to come out and follow our game plan and perform well at the defensive end, and then we're going to have to score some points.
So we're going to start preparing for them today. And we'll get about three days of prep time in for them and hopefully we can come up with something to try and slow them down some.

Q. As a different follow-up, you've got five or six freshmen on this team that could greatly benefit from going through a Final Four and kind of that experience. You talked about going out and seeing the city. Is part of this kind of showing your freshmen and showing the younger players like Des this is what a Final Four is all about?
COACH WALZ: It's not just them. It's all of them. I wanted Angel McCoughtry and Candyce Bingham to enjoy this experience also. We do it for all road trips. It's not just this one.
It's not like we're just saying, hey, we don't care about the game, we're going out to have a good time. College athletics is a part of their lives. I'm trying to make sure as a coach, and my staff does, too, we don't want this to be just about the game of basketball.
So whatever trips we go on -- I mean, we played at Chattanooga two years ago in a tournament and took them to the aquarium. I've got kids who have never been to an aquarium before.
So that's what we're about. We're here to give these young ladies an experience, not just the game of basketball. They know that. They're good at it. We're trying to brighten their horizons and show them what's out there in the world.
So we're going to make this a great trip. We're going to be prepared to play. But we are going to enjoy it.

Q. I'm sure you heard a couple weeks ago with Courtney Paris, kind of made her guarantee about the scholarship deal if they win the national championship. A lot was made about that. I was wondering what your thoughts were. A lot of people at the time said she was putting too much pressure on herself and the team. Other people kind of applauded her for stepping out and saying that. What were your thoughts when she heard she had made that guarantee?
COACH WALZ: I thought it was cute. I thought it was neat that she would step up and say that. Now, I hope she doesn't have to do that. I hope they won't make her pay it back, if we're able to beat them, because that's a lot of money to be paying back. And I'm sure she hasn't had a chance to work a bunch of part-time jobs while she's been playing basketball.
So I thought it was cute. It was neat of her to step up and say, Hey, guys, I'm going to carry us. I took it, what she was trying to do, what a senior leader does, is try to take some pressure off her teammates, actually.
I thought she was trying to say, Hey, the pressure's all on me. The rest of you go out and do your job and have fun, and the way Whitney Hand has been playing and shooting the basketball, looks to me like she's having a bunch of fun out there and there's not a ton of pressure on her.
So I think it may have worked.

Q. Do you see any parallels -- I know much was made, you told your team, Hey, if we can get through the first two rounds, you know, yourself and the coaching staff would take care of the two games at the Regionals, was there any similarity there? Do you kind of maybe take a little pressure off your team at least the first week saying, Hey, you guys take care of business here and we'll take care of the rest?
COACH WALZ: Sure, that's exactly what I was trying to do. Some people have been a little upset that I'd say something like that, trying to say we're too arrogant or too cocky, but, you know, that's exactly what I was trying to do.
I was trying to take the pressure off of our kids and let them go out there and just play hard and have fun. And I realized it had worked, because after our LSU game, when we came into the locker room, which I was really concerned about that game playing at LSU on their home court, Van's a fantastic coach, that that was one that I was like, I just hate to have to play on their home floor.
But when we got finished and we got off the floor, the kids came in the locker room and we talked a little bit, and all of a sudden my point guard, Des Byrd, said, Okay, Coach, it's your turn now.
So I knew that, okay, they were going to believe in what we were going to do and follow a game plan, but they were throwing the pressure back onto me. And that's what I wanted. I didn't want our kids to go out there and play with any pressure in that Sweet 16, Elite Eight game, and I think everybody that possibly watches those two games, I would think you could sit there and say our kids played pretty loose.

Q. Of all the teams that you could have drawn to have to beat to get to the Final Four, it turned out to be Maryland. And I'm just wondering, Jeff, what that was like for you, because we all saw you on television after the game huddling with your former players who probably thought of you as a mentor. How did that, first of all, affect your game plan since you knew so much about them and what was it like for you personally to have to deal with that?
COACH WALZ: Personally it's one of those -- I've told people, I've had two games in my career as a coach that have been extremely hard after the game. During the game you're just competing.
The first one was -- I coached my sister for a year at Western Kentucky, and then the head coach Paul Sanderford went to Nebraska, and then Western Kentucky and Nebraska were in the preseason NIT. And actually the Final Four that year was up at Storrs. And Nebraska played Western Kentucky so I was coaching against my sister. And we beat them. And that was probably, by far, the hardest game that I've had to be a part of, because it deals with family.
And then our game against Maryland, Kristi Toliver, Marissa Coleman and Kim Rogers, Anjale Barrett, Drey Mingo, a bunch of the players I helped recruit, but especially Marissa and Kristi since I coached them for two years.
The prep for that game was kind of easier than some of the other ones because I did know their tendencies. I did explain to our kids what Marissa was going to try to do, that Kristi can shoot it from anywhere on the floor, and our kids believed me in that, because I had coached them for two years, and I think that helped us.
After the game, it was tough. I mean, they're two great kids. They're two great players, with wonderful families. And it is. It's not like a regular season game where everybody's got another game to go play.
That was the end of their career. So I just sat there and gave them both a hug and told them they're great players. I loved them. And I was looking forward to seeing them play in the professional leagues.

Q. You've seen Connecticut more than anybody that's going to be here in St. Louis. Can you just describe how difficult the task is that Stanford and possibly one other team is going to face trying to beat them for the first time?
COACH WALZ: I think we set them up. I think the first two games we let them beat us bad. No, I'm just kidding. They're fantastic. I mean, they've been fun to watch.
They've got the inside game with Tina Charles. Then you've got Maya Moore. You've got Renee Montgomery. And, you know, Tiffany Hayes, I think I need to talk with Geno, because ever since our first game up there at Storrs where we decided not to guard her, she's been shooting a 3 phenomenally since then. So I think we deserve some of that credit for the way she's been shooting the ball.
But it's tough. I mean, I watched them against Arizona State the other night and Tina gets in foul trouble. They bring Kaili McLaren in and she does some good things. They have so many weapons on the offensive end of the floor, and then they work so hard defensively. Stanford gets a first shot at them after our game, and it's going to come down to somebody -- they're going to have to play a great basketball game.
And I don't think it's any surprise, you know. It's one of those, they're actually fun to watch. It's just not fun to watch when you're coaching against them.

Q. Just following up off the Courtney Paris thing and all the attention that got, bringing great attention to women's basketball. Could you kind of assess the state of the women's game, especially, vis-a-vis, the men's? You're kind of paired up against each other, whether that's fair or not, during this time of March Madness, and sometimes the women get the short shrift, sometimes they don't. Could you just maybe give me a little sense of your state of where the women's game is at this point?
COACH WALZ: You know, I think we're continuing to try and grow. We're in an area now where I'm hoping we can continue to draw fan bases and increase them.
Here, Louisville, we average close to 7,000 fans a game, where four years ago Angel McCoughtry's first year I think they averaged 1,500. So we're continuing to grow. And hopefully one day we'll be able to play on neutral sites for the NCAA tournament.
But in order for that to happen we're going to have to have fan bases that are willing to travel and follow. But I'd think this is one of the best tournaments that we've had in years. I mean, there have been some outstanding games. 15 seeds giving 2 seeds a run for their money. The parity, I think it's getting better, and we're trying to get up there with UConn, trying to get up there with the Stanfords of the world, and the more our game continues to grow and the more we can get the high school players and the recruits to look at more schools, then I think it's going to continue to get better from A to Z.
RICK NIXON: Thank you, Coach.

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