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March 25, 2016

Holly Warlick

Bashaara Graves

Mercedes Russell

Te'a Cooper

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Tennessee - 78, Ohio State - 62

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by the University of Tennessee.

We'll start with an opening comment from coach.

COACH WARLICK: Just congratulations to Ohio State, a great season. An unbelievable player in Kelsey Mitchell. She's a special kid. She played her heart out.

Congratulations to Syracuse. I feel bad for obviously South Carolina. I just wanted to take this moment to say that Dawn Staley is a class act. When Tennessee was struggling, the first person I heard from was Dawn Staley. So I have a tremendous amount of respect for Dawn. She does things right.

They had an unbelievable season. They led the SEC in everything. They were awesome. So I feel bad for them. But just want to congratulate them on a great year.

Really proud of our young ladies. We have been a team that has obviously started off on a rollercoaster. But I thought tonight we were focused. We stuck to our game plan. They played hard.

I just can't say enough about the whole team. These three were exceptional tonight. So really, really proud of our team and obviously the result.

THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Mercedes, was it as easy as it looked out there for you tonight?
MERCEDES RUSSELL: No. It honestly wasn't that easy. I think just as a team, us being aggressive really helped us a lot, especially in the first quarter when they started pressing us. Instead of us just bringing the ball up slow, us attacking with passes and the dribble really helped us.

Q. Mercedes, you struggled early in the year, much of the regular season against zone defenses. You've been improving. Seemed like tonight you really peaked. Why were you able to get the ball inside so effectively against their zone?
MERCEDES RUSSELL: I honestly think it starts with ball movement and player movement. Before previously in games I think we were standing around a lot and not moving the ball. Tonight we really moved the ball well, and just went inside-outside and got really good looks in the paint.

Q. Mercedes, go back to the second game of the season how, you won by two points. I know it's a long time ago, but how much do you think that applies now because it has been such a long time since then?
MERCEDES RUSSELL: Well, it does seem like it was forever ago. I think it was early in the season.

I can remember a lot about Syracuse. They're a very solid team that likes to play up-tempo. They have shooters and size inside. The matchup against us was great, because it was a home game for us. Now we're on a neutral court. I think it's going to be an even better matchup this time.

Q. Bashaara, what happened to your hand? The trainer was working on it. Are you okay?
BASHAARA GRAVES: Yeah, I'm good. We're going to continue to look at it, but I think I'll be definitely fine for next game.

Q. Bashaara, as a seven seed you are a little bit of a surprise here. How much do you think you're drawing on your past success in the run you're making in this tournament?
BASHAARA GRAVES: I'm just so proud of this team. I mean, the regular season didn't go as well as we wanted it to go. This post-season, we've been doing awesome. I mean, we're playing together. We're playing up-tempo. We're just doing all the right things at the right time.

I mean, it's just amazing to watch and to be a part of. It's definitely helped us in these last couple of games.

Q. Mercedes, you were so aggressive from the beginning against Arizona State. Seems like you carried that over. These last two games, anything in particular with your mindset, that that aggression has been there?
MERCEDES RUSSELL: Not really. I just think we've seen different defensive sets from teams in the past couple games. I think that's really opened up a lot in the paint, not just for Bashaara and I, but also our guards attacking off the drive and the dribble. I think it's just because of the defensive sets we've been seeing.

Q. Te'a, you looked more comfortable as Ohio State did playing the fast-pace tempo. Were you really feeling it out there in this game?
TE'A COOPER: I like those kind of games. We just practiced a lot with what they was going to throw at us. They really slowed it down some with the zone. We were just really prepared for everything they had to throw at us.

Q. You guys were combined maybe 13 for 13 into the third quarter. Did you realize you were going that well together?
BASHAARA GRAVES: Mercedes was amazing today. She was just getting after it. She was just Mercedes Russell, you know.

MERCEDES RUSSELL: Bashaara played great today. She was crashing the boards on both ends of the floor, being aggressive on the offensive end. So, yeah.

THE MODERATOR: Ladies, thank you very much. Congratulations. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

We'll go ahead and continue with questions for coach.

Q. You go from 8-8 in the SEC to Elite 8. Everything is going great now. Are you a little surprised at how this team was able to turn it around this late?
COACH WARLICK: You know, I'm not. I've said all along this team is special, and they're a great practice team. It just took us a long time to gel.

I said earlier, we went through injuries, had new leaders. It just took us so long to develop. I think, especially if you've seen us in the tournament the last, gosh, three games, we're really playing together as a team.

I think at the beginning of the year, you didn't see that. You didn't see that fire that we have and that togetherness.

So I think we had it in us. It was just trying to learn more about each other, how to play with each other. So I'm excited that we're peaking right now at this moment.

Q. We had two No. 1 seeds go down tonight. I think the first time two No. 7s have been in the Elite 8. Can you put in perspective what a night like this is for women's basketball?
COACH WARLICK: I think it shows just where women's basketball is headed, just the opportunity that kids are getting better. They're starting at a younger age.

Look, I understand the pressures of Notre Dame and South Carolina. We've been there. You're supposed to win. You weren't supposed to have any challenges. So I get it.

Then I understand getting beat by a higher-seeded team. I've been there, too. I've kind of been through every scenario as a coach there can be, as an assistant or as a head coach.

We talk about a lot that this is a new season. I think that's what our kids focused on.

They asked earlier, these kids come to Tennessee because of our tradition, but they have to make their own legacy. So we talked a lot about not focusing on the past or what's ahead of us in the future; just stay in this moment. I think that's what they've done.

We understand the tradition of Tennessee. But it's up to us to carry that on. I think these young ladies tonight, they've always understood it, but they're doing something about it.

Q. What do you remember about the second game of the season? Can you apply anything from that game to what will be happening on Sunday?
COACH WARLICK: I know we got up ahead of Syracuse. They don't quit. They don't give up. They're a matchup team. That's what they do.

I thought they stuck to their game plan today. That's what they're going to do for us. They're very well-coached. They can score from outside.

So I'm not surprised. If you're not used to a matchup, and that style, it can be difficult.

We try to make our schedule to see different styles and different types of teams. Syracuse was one of those we wanted to play because of the respect we have for Q and what he does with his program.

I think we'll go back and study them. We're different. They're different. But you still have the same foundation and what you do.

This may be the first time in a long time we didn't play one bit of man-to-man. That's weird for me. I'm a man-to-man defensive coach, but I also want to win the basketball game. So we were not going to be able to stop Kelsey Mitchell man-to-man.

They're primarily a zone team. We're primarily a man-to-man team. I am sure things are different for him and things are different for us. I think it's going to be a great matchup.

Q. Could you talk about how big of a presence Diamond was, especially with her passing ability, seven assists tonight.
COACH WARLICK: That's a career high for Diamond, seven assists. For her, she was three for 14. She's been shooting the ball a whole lot better. I thought what she did on the defensive end for us and rebounding was huge.

She's a great passer. I thought she had some really, really solid shots. She kind of gave up shots for a pass inside. I love seeing that. I love her distributing the basketball.

She's a heck of a player. She's an intelligent player. I'm sure from those seven assists, she thought somebody was a little bit more open than she was and gave them the opportunity to score.

Q. Are we starting to see the Mercedes Russell that was a little bit delayed by the injuries and the year off? Also, looking at what South Carolina did well tonight, it was on the interior. Can you look to maybe pound the ball inside against Syracuse more effectively?
COACH WARLICK: Yeah, I think you look at Mercedes' freshman year, she had bad feet. They were bad. I don't think we knew how bad they were until she got there. She had surgery on both those feet and sat out last year.

I think she's coming into her own self. I think she's gotten stronger through being in weights and playing. She's taking the physical contact so much better. She wants the basketball. I don't think as a freshman she really wanted the basketball because she didn't want contact. Mercedes Russell wants the basketball.

The answer to your second question is, we're an inside-out team. That's what we do. We want to get the ball inside, without obviously forcing it and turning it over. Tonight we wanted to get the ball in the paint, and we scored 50 points in the paint. That's passing it inside, penetrating, getting shots inside.

I hope we're known for being a strong rebounding team. I thought Mercedes did that, as well. So did Bashaara. We had 53 rebounds. When you do that, you get second-chance points.

We're going to try to pound it inside against Syracuse. I think Syracuse, for the most part, did a great job of limiting South Carolina getting the ball inside. So we're going to have to be really creative and make sure we don't turn over the basketball trying to force it. Don't want to force it, but we love to get it inside.

Q. Was this a conventional zone defense you played? Did you tweak it at all to try to slow down Mitchell?
COACH WARLICK: Absolutely. We stretched our defense. We were around her wherever she was. Look, I know we weren't going to limit her points, but we just wanted to contain her.

Normally you'd say 20 points, you're not real happy. But for just allowing Mitchell 20 points, I'm thrilled with it.

We extended on her. We wanted to make sure where she was. I thought we gave a lot of open threes that we normally wouldn't because we were very concerned with Kelsey Mitchell.

So, yeah, we did tweak it quite a bit because we have that much respect for Mitchell and what she does for Ohio State.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you very much. Congratulations. We'll see you tomorrow.


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