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April 4, 2015
THE MODERATOR:Â Joining us now from UConn head coach Geno Auriemma; student‑athletes, Moriah Jefferson, Kaleena Mosqueda‑Lewis and Breanna Stewart.Â We'll open with a statement from Coach Auriemma.
COACH AURIEMMA:Â I don't know how many ways we can say this during the course of the couple of days that we're here.Â When you get to this point in the season, there's a lot of things that we have to do yesterday, today.Â And I'm sure they're all fun things to do and I'm sure that everybody gets a kick out of those in some way.
But really what everybody wants to do right now is just play.Â Everybody just wants game time to come and there's no more to prepare for, there's no more film to watch, there's no more practices to go to.Â Right now it's just about playing the game.
And we know what the task at hand is.Â We know how good a team Maryland is.Â We know what we have to do.
And we're anxious to get started.
THE MODERATOR:Â Questions for the student‑athletes.
Q.Â Kaleena, could you tell me what difference a healthy Morgan Tuck has made to this team, what a key component she's been?
KALEENA MOSQUEDA‑LEWIS:Â Yeah, definitely having Morgan healthy for us for the whole season has definitely made a difference for our team.Â Just because she's been able to be so dynamic for us out there and be able to be a consistent person for us on the court at all times.
Definitely someone we can constantly look to for leadership and someone who kind of keeps us calm and makes sure everything's under control out there.
Q.Â Breanna Stewart, coming on the stage with an ankle brace or boot, is that a pre‑existing injury, nagging injury?
BREANNA STEWART:Â The boot is nothing.Â It's the inflammation of the sesamoid bone.Â And it's fine as of today.
Q.Â Breanna, third time here, Coach says you want to play games.Â Is that the mantra, not this other stuff, and ready to get on the court and do what you need to do?
BREANNA STEWART:Â Yeah, I think this past week we've been looking towards getting here, and now that we're finally here in Tampa, there's a lot of other distractions to kind of take you away from playing basketball.Â But we came here to play basketball, and that's what we want to do and it was nice to get on the court today.
Q.Â Moriah, what challenges do Maryland's guards possess for you specifically?
MORIAH JEFFERSON:Â Lexie Brown is a great shooter.Â I have to do my best to try to contain her and keep her from driving to the lane.Â The other guards are good also.Â They're really aggressive guards, and we have to make sure that they can't penetrate on us when they're trying to get to the basket and kick it off to the big guys.
Q.Â Breanna, do you think over the course of your career you've learned to deal better with teams throwing defenses, being very physical with you during games, do you think you're better at dealing with that than you were maybe a year ago?
BREANNA STEWART:Â Definitely.Â I think especially transitioning from freshman to sophomore year and even sophomore year to now, getting stronger was one of my big focal points.Â And I know that everything's going to be physical with me.Â I'm expecting that every single game.
So it's gotten to a point where I'm used to it, and if it doesn't happen, I'm sometimes surprised.
Q.Â Question for Breanna.Â Breanna, just in general, do you guys enjoy being the team that everybody kind of wants to knock off the throne, the team that everybody's pointing to all year?
BREANNA STEWART:Â I don't really think we think about it like that.Â We know that everyone's‑‑ everyone wants to beat us, yeah, and it comes with the territory.Â We come to a program where we set the standard really high, and our goal is to get to the Final Four and to win championships.
And we know that we always have a target on our backs.
THE MODERATOR:Â Questions for Coach.
Q.Â I'd like to ask about Morgan's role and, first of all‑‑ that's a complicated surgery she had last year.Â Were you at all fearful she might never get back or never get back to the level where she wouldn't be able to play again at the level that you saw in high school?Â Did you ever have a fear she'd never get back?Â And talk about what she's meant to you this year.
COACH AURIEMMA:Â Yeah, you know, Morgan's freshman year at Connecticut, the first two weeks of practice, we still had Stefanie Dolson and Stewy, obviously, came in at the same time.Â And during those first couple of weeks, I mean, it was pretty evident that at some point pretty soon Morgan was going to be one of the best players in the country.
And she was coming off a knee surgery she had.Â I think people forget, when she got hurt she was Illinois Player of the Year as a freshman.Â I mean, that's not any state.Â That's a state where they play a lot of pretty good high school girls basketball.
And the injury that she developed started to bother her and sophomore year it's something that she thought we could manage.Â And when she elected to have the surgery, it was two things:Â One, it was, man, I don't know if we can win the National Championship without her, last year.Â And, two, our doctors and everyone told us, you know, there's a 50/50 chance that this will work; she could come back 100percent or come back just as bad or if not worse than she is right now.
So Morgan and her parents wanted to make that chance.Â And obviously we obliged.Â But I knew what we had there, and I knew that at some point, if we could get her just playing and not worrying about her knee, that there are very few players in America that can do what she does.
If she didn't play on the same team with Stewy, I think people would get a different view.Â And they help each other a lot, obviously.Â Those two complement each other so well.
But I have to say that every big game that Morgan's played in‑‑ we lost a Stanford game because Morgan didn't play much and fouled out.Â I was experimenting with our team.
That went real well, huh?Â And we knew once we got her in the starting lineup that she got a lot of minutes and she hadn't played all last year that we were going to be a different team.Â And she is the biggest difference in our team.
Q.Â Someone told me that they admire about her she can play the 3, 4, 5, defend the 3, 4, 5.Â Is that basically right?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â I think we're very fortunate that we can put her anywhere we want to put her and she's very, very effective.Â And she's been able to adapt her game to fit whatever need that we have that game.Â So whatever we need that day, that's what she's capable of doing.Â Not many players‑‑ and having her and Stewy up there really, I hope, poses a lot of problems for a lot of teams.
Q.Â When you look at Maryland in years past, typically similar on the front court, with Alyssa Thomas, Tianna Hawkins and, Alicia DeVaughn, now with the guards producing at a high level, does that change at all how you prepare to get ready for them?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â They're obviously a much different team than the Maryland team we played the last couple of years.Â I think when you have a team where you have one player that is as dominant and as great a player as Alyssa Thomas was, you tend to expect her to do so much for your team, that sometimes you don't get to see what the other players can do.
And now that Alyssa is not there, I mean, a lot of these guys that are playing huge roles for Maryland, they didn't even start last year.Â So now they come off and everybody's like:Â Where did these guys come from?Â They were always pretty good.Â But it's just now they're playing leading roles, and they are much more difficult to defend than they were last year.
Everybody probably thinks they don't have the inside game that they used to have, but at this time of the year, I don't care how many big guys you have, your guards are going to win your games in March.
You have to have great guards who play great.Â And their guards play great the whole tournament, and that's the biggest worry that we have tomorrow.
Q.Â What is it about your players that allows them to thrive in the role of the favorite so often?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â Probably being in that role a lot has as much to do with it as anything else.Â They come to Connecticut with that expectation in mind, and they either embrace that role and survive and actually thrive, as you said, in that role of having to be the favorite and having to be on your game every night because everybody'snational championship is when they play you during the regular season, as you guys have seen that cover our team.
People beat us, they storm the court, they carry their coach off the court, we've seen it all.Â And they thrive on it and they embrace it because they want it.Â They want to be in that role.Â And we just kind of keep feeding into it as coaches and we keep pushing it forward and we try not to shy away from it.Â There's no shying away from it.
I mean, it is what it is.Â And you either embrace it and thrive in it or you wilt and you don't play.
Q.Â The loss in November, you got some immediate mileage out of that I'm sure with your team in November.Â Do you still get mileage out of it in April?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â I don't know.Â You know, I don't know‑‑ you can only hold onto things for so long.Â We try not to hold onto things for that long.Â I might bring it up once in a while, but it hasn't come up in a long time now.Â But I wish we would lose more.Â I really do.
I wish we would lose on a regular basis like everybody else does so that when we don't play well or the other team plays great and we get beat, it becomes kind of part of the college landscape at Connecticut.Â Hey, you know, it's all right, they'll bounce back, they'll be fine.
I think those things help you.Â And it did help us.Â I just don't want that or any other loss at Connecticut to be that's the reason why we're going to be good or that's the reason why kids get better is because we played a team that played really, really well.Â And I keep reminding my players, not using Stanford in particular, but keep reminding my players all the time that when you play, the team that plays the best that night is going to win if both teams are equally talented.
And that game just reinforced that, as did the Dayton game.
Q.Â When you look at what Brenda Frese has done building up the Maryland program during the time she's been there, do you consider her one of the best in your profession?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â Yeah, I mean, you don't get to win as much as day one in both the ACC and now in the Big Ten and win a National Championship and make multiple appearances in the Final Four without being really, really good.
The Maryland program has a long history of great success.Â Chris Weller was one of the icons and one of the mainstays of college women's basketball, and Maryland was one of the best programs in America.Â When I was an assistant, they were as good as anybody in the country.
And I think Brenda went there and kind of rekindled that and then took it to where it is now, where I don't think anybody is surprised that Maryland's here.Â I don't think they sneak up on anybody anymore.
Her and her staff and their players, they keep winning.Â And it's not a one‑time thing anymore.Â They just expect to win now.Â And so does everybody else expect them to win.
Q.Â Lexie Brown is one of Maryland's obviously top dynamic scorers but also the daughter of Dee Brown, former NBA player.Â As a coach, what are the unique characteristics of a player that has family ties to the game, and what's it like coaching against them?Â Is it any different than players that don't have any connection?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â I think it goes both ways.Â I think you're starting to see more daughters of NBA players playing college basketball.Â It goes both ways.Â Some benefit from being in that environment, growing up in that environment, from what I've seen.Â They learn how to compete.Â They understand what winning and losing is.Â They understand what preparing is.Â They understand what the expectation is.Â They have to live with the name that they grew up with.Â They have to separate themselves from their father's notoriety and carve out their own identity.
So it's not easy being the son or the daughter of somebody like that.Â And I think she's handled it great.Â And he's probably helped her handle it great.Â I met him a couple times, and he seems like a regular dad.
Now the flip side of that, some of those guys are out of their mind.Â And their daughters are out of their mind, because the expectation level is unrealistic.Â And the expectation level of the parents is unrealistic.Â And you always cross your fingers and hope that those kids can be really good on their own merit rather than live off their father's names.Â And I gotta say she's one of the ones that's been able to do it.
Q.Â Breanna has‑‑
COACH AURIEMMA:Â I'm excited to watch the games tonight.Â I'm excited to watch the games tonight.
Q.Â Breanna has shown a really unique ability to perform her best when the spotlight is its brightest.Â Why do you think that is?Â And is that something you saw in her when you recruited her, or is that‑‑ I don't know‑‑ I imagine it can't be taught, but why does she possess that unique characteristic of playing well when it matters most?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â You just don't know the answers to that question.Â I don't know the answer to that question.Â And I don't know that anyone does.Â I don't know that Stewy does.Â When you're recruiting somebody, you really try to distinguish like why are they dominant.Â Are they dominant because physically they're just so much better than everybody else, and that was the case with Stewy obviously.Â She's in eighth, ninth grade and she's just dominant in her age group.
One of the things that I thought was telling was that in all the U.S.A. Basketball experience that she's had, I think she's won more gold medals than anyone else in the history of U.S.A. Basketball, by this age, is that she always played up.Â She always played above her age group.Â So she's always the youngest player playing with older kids.Â And, yet, she was always on the all‑tournament team or MVP or led the team in scoring or led the team in rebounding.
So that kind of gave you an idea that this kid thrives in a pressure environment.Â But she's still just coming out of high school.Â She's still just a kid.Â So you don't know how that's going to translate into college.
And sometimes you recruit a kid and you think this kid's going to be it and they're not.Â And sometimes you get pleasantly surprised.Â Which Stewy kind of knew she had it and then all she needed was a stage to prove it.Â And she's done it, man.Â I've coached some great ones you all know that.Â I can name them but I don't need to.Â And she's as good as anybody I've ever coached when the big moments come.
Q.Â Because of all of your accomplishments over the years, when your program is portrayed it's often portrayed as this unbeatable machine, almost like you cut them and they don't bleed.Â Is taking the pressure off your players something that you have to actively participate in, or do you have players that know the reality and don't pay attention to such things?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â I think every player, every person in this room has to deal with some kind of pressure at some point.Â And you can't avoid it and you can't ignore it and you can't pretend that it's not there and you have to figure out a way to use that pressure to make you better.
There's not a lot of difference between‑‑ like you saw those ten kids get WBCBL All‑American out there.Â There's not that much difference between those ten kids as actual 18‑, 19‑, 20‑year‑old kids.Â There's not that much difference.
If you were to sit down with all of them, there's a lot of similarities between those kids.Â What happens, I think, is the pressure that you're under every day forces you to adapt and then you become somewhat immune to it after a period of time.
But that doesn't change the fact that you're just a 19‑, 20‑year‑old playing a game, and it doesn't mean that tomorrow night that pressure can't overwhelm you.Â It's still there.
The kids that play on our team are not unlike any of the other kids playing in this Final Four.Â I think just during the year and during their careers they're under a lot more pressure than the other kids on the other teams here, and they learn to use it to their advantage.
And I don't really try to do anything to diffuse the pressure, other than when March comes around, I change to accommodate the situation, and I try to help them even more.
October to March, I really don't care what happens to them.Â I don't care how hard it is, how much pressure they're under, how much they struggle, what people say about that.
The more misery we can inflict upon these guys from October to March, the better.Â When March comes around, we just take a deep breath and say this is our time.
Q.Â You said you'll be watching the men's game tonight.Â What kind of advice and what kind of experience can you give to Kentucky and Coach Calipari going into their 48‑0 hopefully season during this weekend?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â Throw the ball to your big guy.Â Which one?Â Any of the 10.Â Don't worry about it.Â (Laughter) I got to know him pretty well when he was coaching at UMass.Â That guy, you talk about a guy who has it all figured out, that guy right now has got stuff going in college basketball that no one ever has done.
And he's an unbelievable recruiter.Â He's an unbelievable coach.Â He's an unbelievable‑‑ just able to thrive in that environment that he creates, and he's in his element right now.Â He's in his element right now.Â And he gets overlooked for what kind of coach he is, how good he is and how good his teams play.Â So coaching against a Philly guy tonight and guys like Bo Ryan, they don't get intimidated by guys' names or reputations.Â So I'm anxious to see the game.
But as far as any advice for Cal, you know, I don't know that there's anything I could possibly say that he doesn't already know or doesn't already have.Â I can't think of anything.Â I mean, I can but I can't say it in public.
THE MODERATOR:Â Thank you, Coach.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports