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April 4, 2015

Alaina Coates

Elem Ibiam

Dawn Staley

Aleigsha Welch


DAWN STALEY:  We're just excited to be here, participating in our first Final Four, and we look forward to the challenge of playing Notre Dame tomorrow night.

Q.  Alaina, give us a statement on the game tomorrow night.
ALAINA COATES:  Well, just excited to be here and we're really looking forward to playing Notre Dame.  They're a great team, and we're just ready to go out there and get to playing.

Q.  Alaina, can you talk about just the mindset of coming in off the bench in terms of what that's like?  Do you like to read defenses?  What are you thinking in those first few minutes before you're coming into games?
ALAINA COATES:  Just coming off the bench and everything, I'm just making sure I'm paying attention to how we're playing people and just reading how they're playing, especially at my position, since I do come off behind El, just seeing how they handle her and her physicality because physical wise we're kind of the same and just seeing how they adjust to that and just coming off the bench I'm in that mindset of I want to be a spark, I want to be able to come out and contribute and I just want to come out and give it good energy and make sure that I help contribute to my team.

Q.  How has the Final Four either been similar or different than what you expected, at least so far as we're here on Saturday?
ALEIGHSA WELCH:  You know, we've never been in this position, so we didn't really know what to expect.  I think the hospitality has been great, just kind of the excitement and the vibe around it for this being our first time, you know, it's exciting for us, so you kind of just‑‑ you've got to take it in, but with everything that's going on, just find a way to draw that line from the excitement of what's going on outside of basketball to focusing on basketball because I think the one thing none of us expected was how easy it can be to get lost kind of in everything that's going on outside of what your main goal is here, and that's to come in and win two games.  It's been an exciting factor for the first timers, but we know we've got to focus and get to business because we do play tomorrow night.

Q.  Coaches a lot of times talk about what you can learn from a loss being greater than what you learn when you're winning a lot of games.  Can you talk about what you learned about yourselves in that loss to UConn that you've carried over that's made you better to this point?
ELEM IBIAM:  I think we just learned in that loss just to play as a team.  It was kind of early in the season, so we've definitely grown as a team, and I think all the teams have grown.  I think we've just learned just to stay together even when we're down or we're not playing as well as we normally play, just to stay together, keep our heads up and really stay locked in to what our coaches are saying.

Q.  Dawn, have you mapped out your plans for how you deal with Jewell Loyd?
DAWN STALEY:  I mean, we do have a game plan in.  I think what you have to do with the type of player like Jewell Loyd, you have to make her work.  We can't allow her to just get easy buckets, everything that she gets she has to work for, and I think our players are up for the challenge of just trying to stay in front of her.  She's a very good player that can create her own shot in a lot of different ways.  So we have to be as patient and disciplined as Notre Dame is on offense on our defense.

Q.  Dawn, can you talk a little bit about with the starting lineup in terms of when you haven't really changed that very much, having Alaina still come off the bench, having Asia come off the bench?  What's been the mindset of why that combination has worked best for you guys?
DAWN STALEY:  Well, I just felt at the beginning of the season, we did try to change it up the first game of the season, and it was more based on just reward.  I thought we put probably the best five players on the floor for our basketball team, and sometimes the best five players don't have the same type of chemistry that you need to be successful, so we made a change to go back to a lineup that was more comfortable, that had some chemistry, that they played together all season long, a year prior to coming into this year, and we thought it would be a great opportunity for Asia and Alaina to see the game a little bit, and also in the back of our minds, they come in the game and we're a totally different basketball team.  So it puts a lot of pressure on our opponents to prepare for two different teams, and if you're preparing more so how you're going to play us, you're preparing less with the things that you need to do to attack us.

Q.  Aleighsa talked about how easy it is to get lost in all the stuff here going on outside of basketball.  You have three years of Final Four experience as a player.  None of these girls have ever been here.  How do you make sure that they're ready, that they're focused on what they need to do?
DAWN STALEY:  I think there is a fine line of enjoying the moment but also focusing on the task at hand.  When we have to do mandatory media stuff, we give it that energy.  When it's time for us to go on the court and work out, we demand that they be focused and we demand that they understand what the game plan is, and if they don't have it out there on the court, then we've got to do more film sessions.  That's the way you have to balance it.
There's a different element, as well, when you have the element of family members being here, and I think most of their family members are getting in some time today, so you'll let them enjoy a little bit of time with their families, but there comes a point where they have to stay in character.  We need to stay in character and treat it like a road game.

Q.  How important is it for the future of women's basketball that this team doesn't let Connecticut keep winning national championships?
DAWN STALEY:  I don't know how important it is.  I think it's important that teams like our program, who I think we've done it the right way, we're patient, we're worked our tails off to get talent in our program because when it boils down to it, you need talent to dethrone a team or a dynasty like UConn.  But I think it's a great story that we're here.
We're not here off of luck.  Our team worked to get in this position, and it just goes to show some of those other programs, if you continue to work and you continue to recruit and you continue to do things the right way, I think the basketball gods will put you in this position.
We're not here to hand Notre Dame a win.  We're not here to hand Maryland or UConn or whoever we'll face in The Finals, if we're able to get by Notre Dame, we're here to win a national championship.  That's our mindset.  It's probably everybody's mindset that's participating in the Final Four, but UConn beats you mentally and physically if you're not prepared to play them.

Q.  Dawn, great players don't always make for successful coaches.  Why has it worked for you?
DAWN STALEY:  I think probably because I'm a point guard, and point guards are a position of service.  You're always serving other people, and it's easy to make that transition.  When you're a shooting guard or a post player, you see the game a little bit differently.  You see it from an aggressive, I need the ball in my hands, shoot the ball, and it takes time.  When you get players like yourself, it's easy to coach them, but when you're a point guard, you see how it all works and how it all should flow.  You have a different pulse of the game.  And to make that transition I think is a little bit easier for point guards than other positions.  But not impossible.

Q.  I know coaches don't like to go more than four or five games out when you're scouting somebody that you know you have to play, but when did you start looking at Notre Dame, and from your standpoint, what do you see in Notre Dame that you like about what they do on the floor?
DAWN STALEY:  I think we've probably watched Notre Dame all season long because our aspirations were to get to this position, and we knew that they were going to be in the mix.  We've watched them, not necessarily from a writing down their sets or anything, but just getting a feel for how they like to operate and the things that they do well, and then what I like about them is they play basketball with all five players.  Everybody has a role, and everybody plays their role, and everybody can make an impact, especially from an offensive standpoint, where you can't lay off of anybody.  Everybody has to be guarded, and the beautiful thing about Notre Dame is the person with the ball is not only the person that needs to be guarded.  They make you guard five players on the floor, and when you're able to utilize the people that don't have the ball, it looks pretty special and beautiful.

Q.  When you have two players like Tiffany and Jewell who likely will spend some time guarding each other, do they often times neutralize each other and the game comes down to what the other four players do?
DAWN STALEY:  I think in some instances when you have two great players competing at a high level and very similar in talent and skill set, they do have a tendency to offset each other.  But I don't think this time around‑‑ they're going to have to make plays.  Tiff is going to have to make plays for us, Jewell is going to have to make plays for Notre Dame for both of us to be successful.
I'd just like over the course of 40 minutes, I like the depth that we bring into the game, so Tiff is having an off night, we feel good about being able to generate points from some other sources.

Q.  Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with John Chaney and what he's meant to your coaching career?
DAWN STALEY:  You know, Coach Chaney, when I first got into coaching, he was my only impression on a daily basis.  A lot of times our male counterpart at different universities, they're not as open to someone like Coach Chaney.  He would come into our practices, he would allow us to come into his practices and learn, and what I saw from Coach Chaney is he preaches quality.  There's not a whole lot of quantity in the amount of reps that his guys got.  He would lecture for an hour, and he expected perfection.  When they were able to go out there on the court and execute, if they didn't execute in that moment, there was another hour lecture coming after that.  But he is a perfectionist.  He put his team in positions to win basketball games that no one else thought they should have been in.  For that reason he'll always be one of the best mentors that I've ever had.  Obviously he did not get to the point of participating in the Final Four, but certainly I dedicate our time being at the Final Four to him and all the other players that have affected my life as a coach.

Q.  Dawn, we have some players here, Breanna Stewart being one, players that are 6‑3 or bigger who have the guard skills and run the court.  How has that changed women's basketball in the last even 10 years that you have these type of players that create such a match‑up difficulty?
DAWN STALEY:  Well, I think it puts just‑‑ in terms of the whole big scheme of women's basketball, we've seen the Europeans do this for many, many years.  It's becoming more prevalent in our American basketball system, and I think a lot has to do with probably‑‑ has to do with seeing the WNBA and seeing their dreams being lived out in front of them, so they're trying different things.  A'ja Wilson, she's got incredible guard skills.  Breanna Stewart, incredible skill set.  Brianna Turner, they're all just long, lanky, and they have the ability to score in a lot of different ways, so I think it's just opened our game up to be able to play on a bigger scale.  You'll probably see it more in international play where we match up a little bit better now that our post players aren't just on the block, back to the basket players.

Q.  A'ja played relatively few minutes in the regionals.  I think it was 10 and 14.  Was there any reason for that?
DAWN STALEY:  Yes.  Foul trouble.  Foul trouble.  But I think it's great experience for her.  I think she's due for a really good game.  She's just got to find a way to not get herself in foul trouble to where we have to limit her minutes.

Q.  You were talking a little bit earlier about the chemistry of the combinations on the court.  When Alaina and A'ja are in, both still really young players, but how have they‑‑ what's their chemistry like between the two of them, and how do you think both of them have grown in this year?
DAWN STALEY:  Well, Alaina and A'ja, they played AAU basketball together, so they had instant chemistry, but playing at this level, it's a little bit different, the demands of what needs to be executed out there on the floor.  I think it's helped Lain, Lain being Alaina, I think it's helped her become more of a leader, and our staff often laughs and chuckles because Alaina is out there just directing and telling A'ja what she needs to do, and A'ja is like a little pup.  She's listening, she's like, okay, and she does exactly what Alaina tells her to do because some of the stuff that Alaina is telling her is the exact same things she learned from Elem the year before and Lisa the year before.  It's helping her to add some tools to her toolbox that are intangible, and that will go a long way, especially with Lain just being as young as she is.

Q.  Talking to people who know you, they say you're a basketball junkie, you love watching games, have a lot of TVs in your house and you watch film all the time.  From an Xs and Os standpoint game planning, what most impresses you about what UConn does, forgetting about Geno's psychology or how he runs his program, but in terms of true Xs and Os and what you see on the court, what does UConn do year after year that really impresses you?
DAWN STALEY:  Well, it's probably along the same lines as Notre Dame.  They make you play all five players.  There isn't anybody that you can double‑team without them making you pay for it.  What they are extremely good at, they're great passers.  They make other people better.  Every five players on the floor make other people better, and a lot of times a team only has one or two, one or two players that can actually make someone better.  You know, it is a beautiful thing to see how well they work together.  I often think about how did these players come into this system, because it just seems like they have a skill set of passing the basketball, when I know Geno probably thinks one or two of his players aren't great passers, but somehow they hide their weaknesses, and they do a really good job year in and year out having each player on the floor develop how to pass the basketball.

Q.  When you got to Temple as a new coach and you got to South Carolina, both programs were really nowhere at the time.  Can you compare the evaluations that you looked at when you had to build both situations?
DAWN STALEY:  You know, Temple, I mean, both programs I knew nothing about besides they were probably the doormats of their conferences.  What you had to do was change the culture.  You had to get your players to stop thinking about where they're going to spend spring break besides in the gym prepping for postseason play.  I was fortunate that our Temple players bought into that right away, right away.  Instantly we hit the ground running, and it was pretty much a success story, and then when you move to a place like South Carolina where it was very similar, but the players didn't catch on.  They really didn't catch on to doing the things that they needed to do to change the culture and love basketball in the way that they probably should love basketball.
Now, I'll be the first to say, if you don't love basketball, we're probably not the coaching staff for you, because we ask you to do things out of the love of the game, and when you love it, you're able to accomplish things like we've been able to accomplish.  But I will say this:  Those players in year one at South Carolina, they understand it a lot more.  They understand what we asked them to do a lot more because they stayed around our program.  They've been a very good support system for us, and they'll be in town sometime this weekend to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Q.  Do you have the inside track if Tiffany is going to get the award named after you?
DAWN STALEY:  I do, actually.  I have the inside track, but I can't let it out at this moment.  But Tiffany is‑‑ if she's up for the Wooden Award, if she's an All‑American, if she's up for Naismith Player of the Year, I'm quite sure we got it right in having her one of the finalists for the Dawn Staley Award, and for her, it probably means a little bit more to get the Dawn Staley Award than some of those other awards because she looked up to me as a youngster.  I'll tease her about that, too.  And I'm just kidding.  To win the Naismith Award, to win the Wooden Award would be a great tribute to her hard work, and not only her hard work but her ability to lift our program to where it is, because there aren't going to be very many finalists for any of those awards if their team isn't one of the top teams in the country.

Q.  I think even people who don't follow women's basketball closely, they know of Geno, they hear of the things he says and they're aware of his place in the game.  For people that might be curious who don't know a lot about him who would ask you, what's this guy all about?  What's he bring to the game, and what impresses you about him?  How would you answer that?
DAWN STALEY:  You know, I think Geno is a champion.  I think he knows how to‑‑ he knows what buttons to push.  I think as far as his team and other people, I think he's calculating.  I think he knows exactly how to get a rise out of people, and if you don't know him very well, you'll get yourself out of whack.  But if you know him, you'll understand him.
When it comes to winning and knowing basketball, he's very genius‑like.  To be able to do what he's done year in and year out, the players that he's coached, and to be able to win as much as he's won, I think he's deserving of all the attention that he gets, and I hope to one day join in that national championship banner raising that he's done for UConn.

Q.  Morgan talked about a good game against you, 17 points, six or seven rebounds.  Can you talk about what a healthy Morgan Tuck has done for this team to make them better?
DAWN STALEY:  Well, I think Morgan is probably the brute that they need.  She's their emotional leader.  She's an incredible athlete.  She can score with the best of them.  She just gives them great balance.  When a player of her caliber is healthy, she's really a hard match‑up for anybody in the country, especially with all the talent that she's surrounded by.

Q.  You've been around the game long enough to see many of Geno's press conferences and many of the comments he gives that people comment on.  How comfortable are you answering questions that are away from women's basketball, just on a philosophical comfort level?
DAWN STALEY:  For me, I'm the type of person that stays in my lane because I don't want anybody in my lane.  I only answer questions that have a direct impact on me or our program.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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