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March 26, 2016

Holly Warlick

Mercedes Russell

Jaime Nared

Bashaara Graves

Diamond DeShields

Te'a Cooper

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by the University of Tennessee. Lady Volunteers are making their 28th Elite 8 appearance, and tomorrow will mark their 150th NCAA tournament game.

We'll start with an opening comment from coach and then take questions for the student-athletes.

COACH WARLICK: We're excited to be at this point. Was really proud of our young ladies last night, how they competed, played together. They didn't fold when Ohio State made a run.

Very excited to be here today.

THE MODERATOR: Let's take questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Bashaara, an injury update, what about your hand? Diamond, is your leg okay?
DIAMOND DeSHIELDS: My leg is fine. No worries.

BASHAARA GRAVES: My hand is fine. I mean, it is what it is.

Q. Diamond and Te'a, what makes Syracuse's zone defense so good?
DIAMOND DeSHIELDS: I think they have length in the post position. The way they're able to get to their spots, I think they have a very good understanding of what they're trying to do with that zone. I think that helps a lot when everybody's on the same page. They don't seem to get confused too much because they're very comfortable running it.

They just have athletes all over the floor. It's not a slow zone. It's very quick, in and out. It's like, I don't even know. But they're just very good in that zone. I think their athleticism helps.

TE'A COOPER: She said pretty much everything.

Q. Obviously we throw the win/loss record out the door at this moment. It wasn't a typical Tennessee basketball season for you guys. What was the turning point that got you guys to how you're playing now?
JAIME NARED: I think the Georgia game really. We all just finally said, We're tired of losing, tired of how we've been playing. Ever since, we just kind of picked it up a notch. We played to the way we're capable of playing. I think it's shown.

MERCEDES RUSSELL: I think she pretty much said it all. I think we've been clicking very well and playing together for a full 40 minutes.

Q. Bashaara, what do you remember about that first meeting with Syracuse?
BASHAARA GRAVES: We had trouble with their zone. I think that was our second game, right? That's when we were really having trouble going against the zone. We kept turning the ball over a lot.

We're going to have to handle their zone. Against Ohio State we showed we can handle a zone like that.

Q. Mercedes, what is the challenge of going against Briana Day down low in the post?
MERCEDES RUSSELL: I think there's a challenge whenever there's good size. When a team is playing zone, they can pack it in, use their length to make it tough getting shots over them. I think that will really be a challenge.

THE MODERATOR: Ladies, we'll excuse you back to the locker room. Thank you.

We'll continue with questions for Coach Warlick.

Q. What's the status for Jordan Reynolds? Do you think she can play?
COACH WARLICK: You know, they're evaluating her. I think it's kind of a day-to-day decision. She got hit pretty hard in the face. They're evaluating her.

I don't know what the determination will be.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH WARLICK: Well, Te'a started off and on throughout the year, so I think she's got some very good experience there. Andraya started at the point, so she obviously has very good experience there.

Jordan is the point guard that pushes the ball for us. Draya is a little bit more steady. Te'a, she pushes it, is quicker than both of those. Probably bring a different style.

But I think Jordan only played six minutes last night, and the other two stepped up. That's a good thing that we have had to go through and start three different point guards. Now somebody doesn't have to come in that isn't ready. That's a positive thing throughout the year.

Q. How different is your team now compared to the first time you faced Syracuse?
COACH WARLICK: Well, as Bashaara said, we weren't very effective in the zone. They turned us over quite a bit. We weren't playing well as a team. We didn't have a consistent leader. I could just go on and on.

This year has been kind of a learning lesson for us, in growing up. We were not even close to being grown up the second game of the year.

We brought Syracuse in because of their ability to play a 2-3 matchup. They do it extremely well. We thought we may see it down the road, so we are.

Just trying to prepare for all aspects of the game. They do something unique that we don't see on a regular basis. So hopefully we learn from that.

We learned from that game that we've got to get better in our zone offense and take care of the basketball.

Q. What can you gauge that makes this Syracuse basketball team so successful?
COACH WARLICK: Well, obviously their ability to defend. But I think they've got players that can play off the bounce. They've got players that can shoot the three. They've got a strong rebounder in Day.

I just think they do a lot of things very well. They attack. They're very well-coached. They beat a really, really, solid, good basketball team last night in South Carolina. If somebody doesn't take them seriously, there's something wrong with them, and we take them very seriously.

I just think they can do a lot of things very well. When they're clicking on all cylinders at the same time, I think they're a very dangerous basketball team.

Q. You mentioned bringing Syracuse in for the game earlier in the season. Apart from that, do you have any ties to Coach Hillsman? General impressions about him and the job he's done at Syracuse?
COACH WARLICK: I've known Q for a while, just being in the profession. I probably have been in longer than he has.

He does things right. I think he's a great teacher. I know Vonn really well, his assistant. He's an outstanding teacher. I think they recruit to their system. They do it really, really well. Those are the two that I'm very familiar with.

But, you know, he's always been right there. I mean, last year I think they played at our place, as well. I just think he's been very solid and consistent.

Q. It's so long ago that you played Syracuse in Knoxville. Does it help to go back and look at that video or...
COACH WARLICK: No, we've looked at it. I guess it's kind of encouraging because it shows us how far we've come from that game till now. They've gotten better, too. They've gotten better, too.

I think there's no question, at this point we watch a lot of tape. You learn so much from video, how they played you, how they played other people. So, absolutely, we went back and marked it, watched it. We'll show some of our kids the tape, as well.

Q. What is it about Alexis Peterson that stands out most?
COACH WARLICK: I think she's extremely aggressive. When someone can shoot the three and they can penetrate, they're quick with the basketball, they're difficult to guard. I think she's all of that.

I think she's extremely quick. She's smart. She can shoot the three. She penetrates.

For us, you would like kids to be one-dimensional. She is not one-dimensional. She is a scorer, a slasher, get to the basket. Those kids are very difficult to defend. I thought she had an outstanding game yesterday, I really did. She was solid. She took that team on her back.

Q. Just as an observer of the game, how improbable do you think this matchup is? With what happened in Lexington last night, do you think this season is maybe a bit of a turning point for the game?
COACH WARLICK: For women's basketball in general, I do. Of course, you have Connecticut. They have three kids that are solid, have been starting since they were freshmen. They play so well together.

But I do see the talent is outstanding. I think coaching is getting better. We're getting the opportunity to pick from a lot of kids. It's no longer there's a group of five kids over here. You can take a kid that nobody knows about, and that kid can be outstanding.

You hope you can recruit in your system.

I mean, we've been there. When we first started out at Tennessee, we got a core of kids that played really, really hard together. Then that attracted the best players in the country. Now there's a ton of best players in the country.

I think it's exciting for women's basketball, I really do. I don't want to be the one in the end that gets upset. We've done that. We've been upset. We've been in South Carolina's position. We've also been in the opposite position, obviously.

I think every team that we play, there's a kid that's just an unbelievable, outstanding kid. You throw in a couple other people that do the work, do some dirty work.

But, yeah, I mean, to think that Washington could beat Maryland on their home court, as good as Maryland is, is tough. That's a tough game.

Then go into a ton of people in Kentucky, do what they did. For Stanford to do what they did against Notre Dame. From that aspect, it's exciting for women's basketball.

But I know those teams who have lost are hurting and are not feeling very well. They had great seasons. South Carolina had a great season.

Basketball's a tournament sport. That's what we've been teaching. It's a tournament sport. We're in the Elite 8 and we have 13 losses. We split our season up in three seasons. It's the regular season, the SEC, now the NCAA tournament. That's what we preach.

Whether you win all your games or lose...

When you get in the tournament, it's a clean slate, it's tournament time and anything can happen.

Q. Based on geography, this could not have been your first pick for the regional you wanted to go to. What has the experience here been like for you and your team?
COACH WARLICK: The people here have been outstanding. I can't say enough about that. The arena is fabulous. It's team-friendly. I think it's fan-friendly. Surprising enough, I did want to come to this region. I did.

Look, when we got here, the snow was coming in sideways. We landed safely. The people greeted us at the hotel, they were unbelievable. We play indoors. We don't really worry about the weather too much.

I was worried about the weather in Phoenix because it was 92 degrees and our kids were wanting to go out by the pool.

But it has been a great experience for our young ladies. We're very appreciative of the hospitality here, the opportunity to play. Everybody's been super.

I would suggest to come back and put a regional here. The crowd last night was really solid for four teams who weren't close to this area, and the people came out and supported it. That's a tribute to the love for women's basketball in this area. I know South Dakota State is nearby, South Dakota. They have a couple of Division II teams here, as well.

Q. The upsets this weekend certainly suggest more parity. Then you have a game like Connecticut and Mississippi State. Mississippi State, a good SEC team, beat you guys. Does that shock you that UConn could beat them by 60 points?
COACH WARLICK: Yes and no. I think Mississippi State's a solid basketball team. They've not been in that situation. I don't know how they handled it. I didn't get to watch the game.

But I thought Mississippi State had a great year. UConn has been close with teams and they've blown teams out. Mississippi State didn't fair too well.

UConn right now is a cut above everybody. I think when they've played DePaul, they've struggled, UConn.

I think it depends on matchups. Nobody thought that Baylor would have gotten beaten the year that Brittney Griner was a senior, and Louisville went in and did just that.

Is it an uphill battle? Yes. Can it be done? Yes. But I just think that Connecticut are clicking on all cylinders.

Am I surprised? No. But then again, I am surprised, 'cause I've seen Mississippi State play, so...

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach. Good luck tomorrow.

COACH WARLICK: Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.

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