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April 7, 2015
UConn Â– 63
Notre Dame - 53
THE MODERATOR:Â Joining us on the dais from UConn, student‑athletes Moriah Jefferson, Kaleena Mosqueda‑Lewis, and Breanna Stewart.Â And we're waiting on head coach Geno Auriemma.Â We're going to start with an opening statement from coach Geno Auriemma and then take questions for the student‑athletes.
COACH AURIEMMA:Â Well, obviously it's incredibly rewarding to be able to do what we did.Â And it was really hard to do it.Â We knew playing Notre Dame was going to be really, really difficult.Â And it was everything that we thought it was going to be.
But these guys made some plays in the second half that kind of showed our true character.Â We talked about it in the locker room a little bit that every time we were challenged, we responded.
And couldn't be happier for them tonight.Â You know, every senior that plays college basketball wants to win their last game in their career.Â And I'm happy for K that she got a chance to do that and with Kia as well.Â And I'm glad that the two buckets that K made down the stretch were kind of the difference in the game.Â And that's the way she's supposed to go out, because she made a big difference all year and throughout her career.
So I'm thrilled for them.Â And what else can I say?
THE MODERATOR:Â Questions for the student‑athletes.
Q.Â Breanna, you came to UConn saying you wanted to win four national titles.Â You're one away.Â Does it seem surreal in any way?Â Or just describe how that feels, a lofty goal up there and now you're pretty close to it?
BREANNA STEWART:Â I think it's really surreal, and I think I haven't had a chance to even think about that, the fact that I've won three National Championships.Â But I said I want to win four, and you can't win four without winning three.
Q.Â Breanna, on stage I think you said this is the hardest championship or the hardest season.Â Why is that compared to the other two?
BREANNA STEWART:Â Well, I think that this season was different.Â And Coach (indiscernible) when we went into the locker room, we had to grow as players and as people off the court, and that's what we did.Â And you saw us struggle in November when we lost to Stanford and that kind of thing, and just the way we've grown to become the type of team that you saw tonight and national champions.
Q.Â Kaleena, what did it mean to you to make those key shots, only up 6 in the second half and after the game to be there holding on to the National Championship trophy?
KALEENA MOSQUEDA‑LEWIS:Â It meant a lot to be able to step up for my teammates in a big time where they needed me.Â And definitely kind of had it in the back of my mind that we wanted to go out with a National Championship and being able to hold that trophy up at the end of the game and end my senior year the way I wanted to and the way that any basketball player wants to was amazing.
Q.Â Breanna, looked like you turned the ankle there with about eight minutes left in the first half.Â Looked pretty painful.Â Can you talk about how much pain you were in throughout the game, and then just seemed like you were still able to really impact the game with a lot of so‑called little plays but they made a big difference?
BREANNA STEWART:Â When I turned it I wasn't sure I stepped on someone else's foot or rolled it on my own.Â Obviously it was painful.Â Anyone who has rolled an ankle knows that.Â Rosemary, she does a good job, taped it to the point where I really couldn't feel it during the game.
Q.Â Moriah, you've also won three titles in a row.Â And I wonder just how you feel about that accomplishment as well?
MORIAH JEFFERSON:Â I feel the same way Stewy does.Â I had the same goal coming in, wanting to win four national championships.Â And to be able to do it with these guys and to do it on the type of season we had, I can't be more proud of my teammates and I couldn't be happier.
Q.Â I know everyone on the panel affiliated with UConn, you all have multiple championships.Â My question is:Â As far as basketball is concerned, is it harder during the tourney to get to the tournament or are the practices‑‑ the competition in practice, is that just the competition because you guys continue to win?Â So my question is, is it harder in practice or are the games actually harder for you guys?
MORIAH JEFFERSON:Â Coach does a good job of making practices extremely hard.Â I think when you're playing against the type of practice players that we play against that are so well played throughout the whole practice and they're so much stronger and physical than you, it's definitely hard.
But I think it's two different types of situations because Notre Dame is a great team and they play hard.Â But I think practice is something you really can't imagine unless you go through it.
Q.Â Breanna, you set out to win four championships.Â Alongside of that you've won three Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards.Â The only player to do that was Kareem Abdul‑Jabbar.Â The only woman to do that.Â Can you describe how that feels like?
BREANNA STEWART:Â I think that, you know, it's a cool feeling that kind of thing.Â But the championship is most important.Â And as I said on the stage, I thought that Moriah should have gotten the MOP.Â I thought the way she played was phenomenal these past two games.Â And I think that people wanted to give it to me just because it was my opportunity to win three in a row.
Q.Â Moriah, Coach McGraw credited your defense on Jewell Loyd as being one of the most significant factors in the game.Â Can you talk about what that matchup was like and how you defended her and basically what you did?
MORIAH JEFFERSON:Â Jewell's a really good player.Â And you have to try your hardest to not let her catch the ball.Â I really just tried to deny her and make sure that she couldn't catch it and send it back door to Stewy and Kiah who were there to block it.Â I give a lot of credit to them because it makes my job on the perimeter a lot easier.
THE MODERATOR:Â Thank you.Â Questions for Coach.
Q.Â Rebecca Lobo told me that your players now maybe don't see the same "Crazy Geno" that she saw 20 years ago.Â And I want to know, she said that changes with each championship.Â So with each championship, how much or how much do you change I guess as a coach and as a person as well?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â I think it's natural.Â It's just natural that you go through some changes.Â I ask my players to change.Â I ask them to grow up and to be different than they are coming in.Â And I want them to be better in March and April than they are in October and November.
A lot of times that goes for coaches, too.Â I wanted to be better.Â I wanted to be better as the season went on.Â I wanted to be a better coach for them at the end of the season.Â So we spent a lot of time during the season growing up together.
They didn't trust very much early in the season.Â They just thought everything was going to be real easy.Â And they didn't really depend on each other that much.Â They kind of wanted somebody else to do the hard work.Â And little by little, they became trustworthy.Â And I trust them now and I think they trust me.
When Rebecca was a senior and we won that championship, we all were in a situation where none of us knew what we were doing.Â We were just kind of winging it.Â None of us had been there before, none of us had done that, it was like a magical ride, and we all just roll with it.
With each year it's gotten increasingly more difficult to get to the same point, because now you know where all the pitfalls are.
I'm going to look back at some point and it's going to be‑‑ I'm going to have to read it to really comprehend everything that we've done.Â I'm really going to have to actually read it.
Q.Â I know you've been asked and commented on this a lot this week, but now that it's here, 10 up, 10 down:Â Phil Jackson, John Wooden, and Geno Auriemma.Â Can you reflect on that now that it's here?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â Well, none of those other guys you mentioned coached any bad teams with bad players on them.Â So we all have that in common.Â We all coached some of the most iconic players to play the game of basketball.
So I think we have that as the thread that runs through all three.Â Anytime you're in a championship situation, anytime you're trying to win any tournament, but especially the National Championship, so many things have to go right and you have to have players that make those plays that make it go right.
To do that 10 times in a row, to win 10 and be 10‑0 in National Championship games is ‑‑ again, it's too big for me to think about it.Â It's too much.Â Too much.
Q.Â A question along those lines, when you match John Wooden with 10 National Championships, invariably there will be people who will say:Â Well, you coach women.Â Wooden coached men.Â It's different.Â How do you hope UConn's 10 championships, your 10 championships, are measured in the scope of basketball history?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â Whichever way they want to mention it, whichever way they want to acknowledge it.Â Whenever way anybody wants to put it on a pedestal or keep it somewhere else, you know‑‑ I said this the other day to people, you know, we're not real good in this country about appreciating just people that are good.Â We always have to compare.Â We don't appreciate Stewy.Â We have to compare her to somebody playing in the NBA or somebody playing college basketball.
I go through that with our Olympic team.Â Our Olympic team is the best team in the history of the Olympics.Â We won five straight gold medals.Â But because we travel with the greatest basketball players in the world, when you make a comparison, you always come up short.Â So you kind of got to appreciate it in its own element and say, okay, well, relative to their peers, those guys are really, really good.
Because if we don't, if we start relegating it, you know, and we go by what's the most important sport in the country, the NFL.Â Bill Belichick is the only coach worth a shit right now.Â Everybody else is just trying to catch up to him.Â But every other coach that you mentioned, whether it's Phil Jackson, Coach K, Anson Dorrance down in North Carolina, the women's soccer coach, when you accomplish something that's really hard to accomplish, you should be proud of yourself.
And how people want to compare you to anybody else, that's their prerogative.Â Some people are going to say this is really, really great and historic, an unbelievable achievement, and some people will pooh‑pooh it.
So as you can tell by some of my comments in the last couple of weeks, I've lost the ability to care, give a damn what people think.
Q.Â Because this team had overcome so much in growth over the course of the season, was it one of the most satisfying and rewarding?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â It is.Â It is.Â I didn't like this team in October.Â I mean, don't get me wrong, I tried to like them.Â I was really nice to them.Â But that always backfires.Â I tried to like them.
Like last year, with that team last year, I liked them, they liked me.Â We started off October15th loving each other, and it just got better and better.Â It was Barney.Â I love you, you love me, we all loved everybody.
This year I didn't like them in October and they didn't like me either, because I knew.Â I knew what we were doing in October and November wasn't going to be good enough to get what they wanted, which is what they have tonight.Â But they didn't want to listen to me.Â They didn't want to hear it.
How do you tell a group of guys that have won two national championships in a row that what they're doing isn't good enough?Â So little by little, though, they started to understand.Â They started to see what we were talking about as a coaching staff.Â And Shea and Marisa and C.D., they put a lot of time in with these guys, and little by little they started to see the results of that hard work, how they started to trust each other more, depend on each other more, be held more accountable to each other.Â Last year's team we had three bad practices in five months.
I remember all three of them.Â Great.Â That's it.Â In five months.Â This team we probably had three a week.Â Because in the beginning they didn't know, they didn't know, and as the season wore down, every day was great in practice.Â Every day was a great day.Â Most of January, February, March, these last couple of weeks, every day was great.
I shouldn't say‑‑ there were a couple that were not so great.
Q.Â During the breakout session, Breanna talked about when she was a high school senior, she would talk to you, you guys would have conversations, check up on each other, and she said a lot of times those conversations revolved around sort of expectations, what she wanted to do when she came to UConn, what you sort of either expected from her or said:Â I can help you with this but you have to work.Â Can you recall even in general what those conversations were like when she was a high school senior prior to heading in?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â It's part of the evolution of our program.Â And it's part of the evolution of the recruiting process.Â When we were recruiting Rebecca, it was Rebecca.Â You could come to Connecticut and you could help us be really good.Â You can help build a program that people will say Rebecca Lobo helped build that.
So that was the conversations that Rebecca had and I had on a regular basis were about what she could do to help us and how much fun it would be to play at Connecticut, close to home and all that.
As the years have gone on, and now culminating with recruiting Stewy, my conversations with Stewy were more about Stewy:Â Think of it this way, what do you want?Â Tell me what you want, because even if you don't come to Connecticut, I mean, there's a chance we could still win national championships.Â So it's not like we're dependent on just one player.
So what do you want?Â And she said:Â You know I want to win four national championships.Â I want to be Player of the Year.Â I want to make the Olympic team.Â I want, I want.Â She wants all these things.
I said:Â Well, why don't you sit down and take a look at all the coaches that you think can help you do that and you tell me where you want to go to school.Â So it was more about now the conversation and recruiting, this is what we can do for you, as opposed to Stewy:Â If you come here you'll help us do something, what, we've never done before?
So it's all about appealing to what they want now.Â And the thing with Maya, the same with Stewy, all these guys, those kids that don't necessarily know what they want, I don't know what I want, we don't get those kids.Â Those kids have to play 35 minutes, lead the country in scoring, want to have fun, want to love their coach, want to be buddy‑buddies with their coach.Â We don't get those guys.Â We get guys who don't like me but want to win championships.
Q.Â I know you said you just don't like comparing things, but three Outstanding MOPs for Stewy.Â First woman to ever do that.Â And, again, Kareem is the only person in college basketball to do that.Â What does that mean in her legend?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â There just hasn't been a player like Stewy in the women's game in a long, long time.Â I think she might be like two inches taller and longer than Cheryl Miller.Â And Cheryl Miller was one of the best players I ever saw that size.
Lisa Leslie was a great, great player, but I don't know if she was as versatile.Â Stewy is not as big as Lisa, but I don't know that Lisa was‑‑ Stewy's the kind of player that women's basketball probably has not seen, because it's still young.Â Kind of like when Kareem came to UCLA.Â Not a whole lot of players coming out of high school were like Kareem, in the history of the men's game.
So for her to get three most outstanding players, as I said, she set her goal to do that and maybe that's why she broke down up on the stage today, that she knows how hard she worked to get here, and I'm proud of her.Â She has to do it under unbelievable expectations, the weight of expectations on Stewy are way different than any other kid playing college basketball.
Q.Â You just touched on this a little bit comparing Stewy to Kareem Abdul‑Jabbar in terms of the timeframe in which they played, and there's a lot of similarities between you and John Wooden.Â Not just the 10 titles now but also the era of the men's game and the women's game.Â Have you considered that, and also like the role you've played in the evolution of the women's game?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â That's a good question.Â And I like it better when it's phrased like that.Â Because we are in that stage, the NCAA Tournament is only 30 years old, or 34, 35, maybe, the NCAA Tournament.Â Used to be a different tournament.
So we haven't been doing this a long time.Â College women's basketball being in the public eye hasn't been‑‑ that hasn't been a constant in the media, the social media, the fans, the everything.
This is all new to us, relatively new.Â 30 years.Â And even in the last 20 years, you know, since 1995, things have changed dramatically for the women's game.Â And I can remember as a kid you couldn't get a college basketball game on TV, in the late'60s, early'70s.
When UCLA was going through their run, you couldn't get college games on TV.Â There was no big Monday, ESPN no televising those games.Â You were lucky if you ever saw a game.Â So the game didn't have the appeal that the men's game has today.Â And the NCAA Tournament was different back then.Â You play two games close to home and you went to the Final Four.
And we're not quite that, but there's a lot of similarities.Â So I think John Wooden was one of the reasons why the college game became the game it became.Â Like the game down at the Astrodome in Houston, that kickstarted a lot of things.
And I hope that we at Connecticut have done our part to grow this game.Â When people say is this good for the game, what you're doing, I'm part of it so I think it's great for the game.
But I do think there's a level of attention that we're given that I think helps everybody.Â It helps everybody.Â And just like it ended at UCLA, they're not what they used to be.Â History has a way of reminding you that the same thing is going to happen with us, the same thing.Â Just want to enjoy it while we're in it.
Q.Â You said in October/November your players weren't doing the right thing.Â What weren't they doing or maybe what were they doing that wasn't right?Â And was there a point in the season where that changed, where you saw that they started trusting you, where they started doing the right thing?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â It's never like big, big things.Â It's not like they didn't feel like coming to practice.Â Or they were dogging it in games.Â Never anything like that.Â It was more of this little detail is really important and they would tell you by their actions no, it isn't, and that would just piss us off, like big time.
So this thing in practice, this drill we're going to do, I know it's really, really hard.Â But if you're going to stand there and complain that it's really, really hard, now you're just not good enough to be where you want to be.
So there was a lot of going on like we were making it, we were trying to prepare them and they didn't necessarily want to work at it, they just wanted to play games and win.Â They didn't really have an interest in practicing great.Â And I think after we played at Notre Dame and came back, because that time leading up to the Notre Dame game from the Stanford game was pretty important.Â A lot of changes were made on our team between the Stanford game and the Notre Dame game.Â A lot of good stuff happened on our team.
And from January1st, pretty much, until everything changed.Â They embraced how hard it was.Â Every drill we gave them that was impossible, they embraced it.Â They tried to win at it any way.Â Everything we threw at them they tried to win.Â Every obstacle they tried to get over it instead of, oh, well, Coach, there's only four us on defense and there's five of them on offense, how do you expect us to guard them?Â What, do you think I'm stupid?Â I know there's five of them.Â You're supposed to figure out how to guard them.
As the season went on they started to embrace the challenge, and that basically is what got us to where we are now.
Q.Â I know you said you've lost the ability to give a damn about what other people think‑‑
COACH AURIEMMA:Â That's not really true.Â My wife, I care what she thinks.
Q.Â I'm just wondering whether you might also care what the team thought when they sort of lifted you up and carried you off the floor.Â What was that like for you, that experience?
COACH AURIEMMA:Â Well, that first started in 1995.Â Every year since then it's become less enjoyable, because back then they were overjoyed at the fact that they could carry me off the floor.
Now when they pick me up, all they do is bitch and moan how heavy I am.Â Well, I make it worse because I kind of just lay there like a stone.Â So Kaleena Mosqueda‑Lewis took the brunt of it today.
Yeah, that's just something that started.Â I don't know that they like it or don't like it, but they do it.Â They have fun with it.Â And we have a lot of traditions on our team.Â Some are like really, really dopy and some are pretty cool.
And as I've gotten older I embrace more of the traditions that they think are important.Â And it's a fun‑loving group, and I'm happy for them.
THE MODERATOR:Â Thank you, Coach.
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