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March 8, 2016

Joe Tartamella

Danaejah Grant

Aliyyah Handford

Chicago, Illinois

St. John's - 50, Creighton - 37

JOE TARTAMELLA: Couldn't be prouder of our team and our players and everybody involved, getting us to have this opportunity tonight against an always tremendously well-coached team in Creighton and who we've seen many times over the years.

The game was probably where we thought it would be. We knew if we could guard and hopefully be able to hold our ground that as the game wore on, we were going to rely on experience, our legs, and be able to kind of take over. I thought we did a great job defensively. We struggled mightily on offense, but our players really stuck to the game plan. They did not get frustrated. They kept our heads up, shoulders up. The mental toughness tonight for us was so important and having the ability to give us a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, and on another night after that the fourth quarter became ours, and we were able to pull away.

It just says so much of where we've come from with these two ladies on my right, and I told our players in the locker room, obviously we're going to miss them next year. But they've moved the meter of what our program means. 1988, the battles with Carnesecca, it sticks out like a sore thumb. It`s the one thing that's bothered me for 13 years at St. John's, and we've been able to change it now. And these young ladies along with the rest of that locker room, we have that forever. That's what I told them. This is a thing that doesn't go away. It's for all time. It bonds us, and we're very excited to represent the Big East as the postseason champ as we move into the NCAA Tournament. And our league has been so great all year, I'm excited to see how everybody does.

Q. Danaejah, in talking with you guys throughout this run and into the championship, I kept hearing, well, that loss to Creighton in the regular season finale was a turning point for us. How did you really respond from that and how did it help you in Chicago this week?
DANAEJAH GRANT: I think it fueled us mostly, because we didn't play how we wanted to play in that game. We settled for a lot of things. We didn't play as a team, I believe, in that game. So going forward we made sure that we were going to capitalize on every opportunity. We sat down and we had a team meeting, and we just established rules for everybody, and we let everyone know that we needed everyone to contribute in order for us to win.

Q. Aliyyah, this was a defensive-paced game. It was really a gritty war. It's how you guys have won so many games throughout the years. What exactly was it that in the fourth quarter got you to find a way to win it?
ALIYYAH HANDFORD: We just knew that it all boils down to how we play on defense, and we shut them down in the fourth quarter. We was locked in. Our defense led to our offense. Once we knew that we was getting stops, we had to score, go in transition, and that's what we did.

Q. When you look at this week, it might be surreal right now, but what does this mean to you and for your senior season to have a championship and now be able to go back to the big dance?
ALIYYAH HANDFORD: It means a lot to get to the big dance and to have this chip on our shoulder is great. It's a great feeling for our career and his first time winning the championship. It's great.

Q. Danaejah, you've got it pretty good there with the water. What does Coach mean to you?
DANAEJAH GRANT: It means a lot, just welcoming me to the program when I decided to transfer, believing in me, giving me the opportunity to establish my career. A lot of credit to him for everything that I've accomplished in my career.

Q. Being able to beat DePaul here at DePaul and being able to beat Creighton, the No. 7 seed, how does that speak to the overall depth of the conference from top to bottom?
DANAEJAH GRANT: It says a lot about the conference. On any given night it could be anyone's game. You can't come into the game thinking you're going to win because you're a higher seed or just because you might not have as many losses. You have to respect everyone every night.

Q. Grant, I thought in the second quarter you were getting frustrated with your teammates, calling for the ball and not getting it. How did you keep your composure?
DANAEJAH GRANT: I wasn't so much getting frustrated with them, it was more myself because I felt like I could have done more to try to get open. But then I realized that we weren't going to win the game with just me scoring, so I decided to lock in and to get my teammates opportunities to score, try to find them in open slots. I knew if I attacked the basket, a lot of times they were going to converge on me, so I tried to get it to the open teammate.

Q. Coach talked about the mentality going into this game. What changed in the fourth quarter and also was there a difference in the championship mentality in this game versus your other games?
ALIYYAH HANDFORD: Back to what I was saying again, defense-wise, when it boils down to the fourth quarter and everyone is going at it, and both teams -- credit to Creighton, but we stuck it out and just played great defense.

DANAEJAH GRANT: Yeah, like she said, it was just defensively. When we came out in the fourth quarter, we got into a huddle and we said that something needed to change. Throughout the first three quarters we stayed pretty even with them, and we knew that we couldn't play the fourth quarter like we did the previous three. We just decided to lock down on defense. We said we needed to push the lead to 10, and we set that goal and got it.

Q. You have like every individual record, accolade in the book. Where does this team championship kind of stack up versus those?
DANAEJAH GRANT: There's no comparison. There really isn't. This is what we've been working for. You know, the individual stuff, it comes, but just to be able to do this with your team, people that you've been working in the off-season with, people that you see every day, people that you work so hard with every day, it means the world. We have teammates down there who push us every day. We couldn't do this by ourselves, so we just credit them for being there every day with us, pushing us every day, and that's what got us here.


Q. It's always Aliyyah and Danaejah, you two are known as a package deal around the country. So what has it been like for you two to play together for these last few years?
DANAEJAH GRANT: It means a lot in our career together with a championship on our belt, it's great. It's a great feeling. We've got the best backcourt ever, hands down, and I'm going to keep saying it because I believe in it.

ALIYYAH HANDFORD: They've got to draft us together. We're a package deal.

DANAEJAH GRANT: No, it means a lot. I really couldn't see myself playing with anyone else. It's great to be able to feed off of each other, be able to play with each other so well. It just means a lot to finally win this with her to end our career on the right note.

Q. Coach, why was this team able to turn the page from that loss against Creighton in the regular season finally and make this run to win the title?
JOE TARTAMELLA: You know, I think in a weird way, you never want to lose a game, obviously. In a weird way it kind of worked out in our favor because it made us extremely sharp for today. You know, the way that they came into our place on senior day and out-toughed us, I thought, throughout the game, especially late, our players were very much in tune and engaged to what we were trying to do today.

They're a difficult team to guard the way that they play, similar to like I said the other night with DePaul and Villanova, you know. So I think when you look at that game from a week ago or a week and a half ago, it allowed us to understand how difficult it could be when we faced them again.

You know what, we knew the energy level we had to have had to exceed theirs because we knew that they had played maybe an extra game. I don't know if that had any effect at all, but as the game goes on you think that's going to move to your favor. It was a massive 28-28 I think at the end of the third, and I felt pretty good because we were even, and I said at some point we've got to make a run. That's what I told our kids in the huddle that Danaejah was remarking about. But it was going to be one swing at that point, you don't like 28-28. But we guarded, so I was good.

I thought the game helped us learn, and it showed our group that they can learn from that loss and then bounce back. I can't explain the fact that we seemed to be able to win three games in a row and can't win on a Friday and Sunday, so I'll try to figure that out in the off-season.

Q. These two, Danaejah and Aliyyah, I mean, they've already -- coming into this week they had cemented their legacy in the program. To now do this, what does it say about them and can you reflect on coaching these two?
JOE TARTAMELLA: I mean, when you can win -- there's nothing better than winning a team award, a team championship, for a group. I'll be very honest with you, in my 13 years I haven't had it. And so to be able to see that happen with this group that has had their peaks and valleys, that has had highs and lows, to watch them come together over a four-day span and do what they just did is why we coach. And it's why you love your players even when they get you very angry many times every day.

But when you can watch them succeed from where they've come from, when you can watch them compete, and the competition part is so exciting, when you've got players who are competitive and they get after it, and they work hard and you see that blossom for them, it's tremendous. For these two ladies, Aliyyah and D have meant a lot, and I've said this for the last month, it's been like the farewell tour in a way, but it meant a lot to me personally. They mean a lot to my family, my kids, my wife. Just what they've done is unprecedented. When you look at the shift in where the league had gone from when they came in, they've elevated it along with many other players in this league who have come in and done a great job.

So to watch these two go off like this, to win a championship with their team, not individuals, they are so excited and so proud of their teammates and our staff and everybody who's been involved, and it's hard for me to put into words. I looked up at that clock and it was a 10-point game with two to go, and they almost caught me one time with a tear, but I held it.

Q. This was really a great tournament. There were a lot of excellently played games. Tonight from the outset, I think you'd agree both teams, they looked like they had been a little bit tired from the grind of this tournament. What do you think of the way that this league has risen and is going to continue to rise in the future?
JOE TARTAMELLA: I mean, it's been fun to watch. I talked about this the other day. When you look at our teams, and I think Doug commented on this too, throughout, and many coaches have, when you look at the league and you look at the teams, Georgetown much improved, Marquette much improved, Seton Hall obviously improved over the last number of years. It's not just about what we do to each other in the league but when you look at the non-conference, this year alone we've watched our league schedule good games outside of our conference schedule and win those games along with playing very competitive against some of the top leagues in the country. You look at what DePaul did and how they scheduled, Marquette, same thing, they played Arizona State tight, they played Auburn. You're looking at these things, and the teams are improving. Georgetown I think, what did I hear on TV, third best turnaround in the country?

So the league is getting better. We have to continue to get good players, and not just good players, but great players who represent this league. But the Big East, I`m fortunate that I got a chance to grow up this league. I had access to Doug, and I have access to Geno, and Muffet, and all those guys at that time as a young coach. And I tried to impress that upon some of the coaches that I'm around in this league who don't understand that sometimes that you get this access and enjoy it and use it. These are great coaches in our game, Hall of Fame coaches in our game. I've been so privileged to be a part of that when I was given the opportunity in 2002 to be a GA. And to be able to sit here now 13 years later, I would have told you you were crazy that I`d be sitting here right now. But at the same time, the way that this league has grown, including with the restructure, football five, everything else. We're playing people in it, we're beating people in it and we`re going to continue to do that, we're going to get players.

The Big East is a basketball league that is going to continue to grow and grow and grow because of the support that we have from our universities, from our administration, and we're going to go get players and we've got to continue to do that. Is it easy, no. But that's what our job is, so we're going to go find them and we'll continue to grow this thing as best we can.

Q. Can you talk about Aaliyah Lewis's performance tonight?
JOE TARTAMELLA: I think she was emotional for most of the game, but she was a key. She shot 4 for 14. Went to the locker room, she had taken nine shots. I told her if we took nine more we're not going to win the game, unless you're able to make those shots at the right time. We needed her to make a play. The kid is the toughest kid that I've had. I don't care about size or anything else, but she is one of the toughest suckers I've ever been around, and she has been huge. What did she have, 14? So the other part of her game, she plays probably the toughest kind of guard on the other team. She plays 90 feet. She's got to make free throws at the end of the game, she's got to run our offense, she's got to make shots, she does everything. We talk about Handford and we talk about D Grant a lot. Aaliyah Lewis is vital to what we do, as we know, along with many of our other players. I was really proud of how she was able to kind of bounce back. It showed maturity.

Two years ago or even a year ago, she may have kind of lost it and stayed lost, and I thought she did a great job of rebounding herself emotionally to come back in. She never stopped guarding. You watch that kid move, it's impressive.

I thought our defensive intensity, it always begins and it ends with her. She is the point man. She's the one that's going to be the tip of the sword. She's the one recovering. She's the one communicating. I can't say enough about her. I've watched her since she was in eighth grade, how she came into Bishop Ford and was just a lightning rod, who, if you watched some of her lay-ups today, she did look like that at times in high school when she went 100 miles an hour and threw it up. She's grown a lot since she's been with us, and you watch her shooting, her percentage is up this year. I told her I loved her. The kid just plays her butt off. Remarkably, I didn't see this, she had eight rebounds, and she had eight boards, so think about that, too. So big-time performance, and the best part about it, no turnovers in 40 minutes. I probably should have told the team that in the locker room.

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