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March 17, 2016

Aliyyah Handford

Sandra Udobi

Danaejah Grant

Joe Tartamella

Waco, Texas

THE MODERATOR: All right. Good afternoon, folks. Our third press conference of the day. On the dais with me here St. John's head coach Joe Tartamella and student athletes Danaejah Grant, Aliyyah Handford and Sandra Udobi.

Q. Just like the players to address the role you guys were on in the conference tournament and just how good you feel going into the NCAA tournament.
DANAEJAH GRANT: We feel great about it. We gained a lot of momentum in the tournament, a lot of confidence between the players. You know, everyone has their role now, and we just trust in each other.

SANDRA UDOBI: I agree with Danaejah. I feel like we are ready for what we're about to face, and we trust each other right now, and we're just staying together and doing what we need to do in order to move ahead.

Q. Aliyyah, can you talk about just being this far away and is that a good thing in the NCAA tournament to be able to travel somewhere and play this far away?
ALIYYAH HANDFORD: Yes, it's a good thing. It's always good that you're in different places, and it's really nice out here.

THE MODERATOR: Any other questions for you're student-athletes? We'll open it up now for questions for Coach Tartamella. Just talk about what worked so well, and obviously you've had a good season, but in the tournament last week, just how it all kind of came together.

COACH TARTAMELLA: You know, I think that I watched a group of young women in a matter of four days really kind of execute everything we had been trying to do throughout the year. Every season has its peaks and valleys, and obviously you want to stay on the high end as much as you can, but I think when you look back to those three days, you know, a lot of things happened, especially the way we were able to play, closing games fourth quarter, things that have been our cornerstones of our program over the last number of years.

But to watch them do what they did over those three games, I mean it was just unbelievable. So I can understand them having more confidence. Obviously we had momentum. You know, and as I told them, that's something that lasts forever. I mean that's through the end of time. That bonds us as a group. 28 years it had been at our university since a Big East title. I think I might have been like six years old. And the girls weren't born.

So for me it's growing up in New York and being able to bring that back to our community and to watch them celebrate and the joy they had, and just how we played to get there, having to beat DePaul on their home court and being able to beat Creighton who was playing as hot as anybody in the finals. So just a true joy to watch that, and then being able now to move forward, getting back to the NCAA tournament, six of the last seven, now three of the last four for us. And I'm just happy they have this opportunity to be on this stage. I think people will enjoy watching this game tomorrow.

Q. Kim talked about it had been tried at the neutral sites, attendance wasn't what it needed to be. What's your feeling about the NCAA being played neutral sites versus host sites?
COACH TARTAMELLA: You know, I think we gotta do what's best to grow our game, and players want to play in front of fans. You gotta ask the question about being away from home. We hosted a tournament my first year as a head coach. So having that atmosphere is fantastic, but also being able to get away and play at other places, regardless if you're playing on their home floor.

In 2012 when I was an associate head coach we had to beat Oklahoma on their home floor. We were three seed to get to the Sweet 16, but the place was packed. You love that atmosphere. That's what the game is about. That's what competitiveness is about. You want to have fans who are energized, who are engaged, fan bases that care about our game, that can grow our game. So we'll see how it's going to obviously play out over time.

But I think whatever is the best for our game, which this seems to be a great move right now with being able to energize fan bases, to be able to get people in the seats, that's a big thing. We moved the conference tournament to home sites, to Canada sites, and we had a great atmosphere at DePaul. We don't know where it will go next year, but I thought it was a great feel. You had that intimacy. You had fans who really enjoyed watching our game who were intrigued about our players, about who was going to win, even though DePaul was hosting. It was just a great feel in Chicago during that time.

And so I think it's great when you can get people in the stands. I've been a coach and I've been coaching now 13 years. I was an assistant for nine, and to be able to play in Gampel, to be able to play up in I think it's the Joyce Center at Notre Dame. You know, when you've got 13,000, I mean that's what it's about. So whatever we need to do to help get people to watch our players, to grow our game is what I've always been in favor for. And I think it'll end up being a move that will, I think, be beneficial.

Q. I guess just your thoughts on Auburn, that matchup?
COACH TARTAMELLA: Yeah, you know what, I told our players, too. You get to the tournament, you're always playing a good team. They're a tremendous defensive team. Coach Flo who was at Georgetown, and obviously we've played them the last two years, so we're somewhat familiar with their style, her style.

They do a great job. They don't really have any bad losses, you know, when you look at their record. As much as they've got some losses that have accumulated, they're not really above teams above 100. So they've played some very difficult teams, obviously in conference, out of conference. Defensively they're very good. They're going to trap, they're going to press. They're going to play they want to play and try to turn you over, and I think they're top 15 in turnover margin and I think even in steals in the country.

They've got a number of players who can score the ball, great player inside in Tanner. And so the matchup will be interesting. I think both teams will be looking to get up and down the floor and try to play to their strengths, but that's the beauty of the postseason when you can get into these kinds of games and at this stage. We're excited for the matchup. I know they are too I'm sure. So we look forward to hopefully having a great game tomorrow.

Q. Your team has been here six of the last seven years. You got the experience of doing it. Auburn used to be a year-in, year-out team, but this is the first time they've been in a while. Is there something different you gotta prepare for playing a team that's hungry to get back and is back?
COACH TARTAMELLA: Yeah. I mean I think -- anytime you can get here, I think we take it for granted sometimes, and I told our players that last year, we were left out. And that was on our accord. I mean we didn't get it done. And so sometimes you can take that for granted. You don't understand how hard it is to get to this moment, to get to this stage. And all that hard work you put in could be a matter of a game or two that ends up being the difference.

So you know, when you look at it, we're as hungry as they are. We weren't in it last year. So our players were back here, and especially to have Danaejah and Aliyyah, kind of our senior class to be able to finish their career, on this stage, in this moment, with this opportunity is what you work for.

So I think every team is hungry. Everybody wants to be able to get after it, regardless if you were in it or out of it, it's a special time. I mean anytime you're playing in March, it's a special time. I mean you look around and you grow up as a kid watching March Madness and watching everybody play and your favorite team, whoever that might be, and you kind of dream about being in that spot.

And so I try to impress upon our players to live in the moment. This is the one time where I kind of tell them to live in the moment. Most of the time I tell them don't live in the moment. Think about what happens after the moment. But live in this moment and really enjoy it, but at the same time you have work to do.

So the experience part, playing on the big stage, playing in two Big East championship games in the last three years, having the opportunity to play in the postseason in the NCAA tournament can help you as you move forward obviously with the players that we have, so you hope at some point in the game that experience, that calmness will come over, and so I think that's a big part of being able to get there six or seven which helps. At the same time I think everybody is extremely hungry to be able to get after somebody and get a win and survive and advance.

THE MODERATOR: All right. Any more questions for coach? Thank you, coach.

COACH TARTAMELLA: Okay. Thanks, guys.

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