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March 27, 2016
THE MODERATOR: We'll begin with an opening statement from coach and then take questions for the student-athletes.
COACH AURIEMMA: Thank you. Obviously, we're one game away from the Final Four, and I think any time you get to the -- to this point in the season, it's exactly where every player wants to be from the time school starts in September to today. Everything you work for is to put yourself in this situation and to be able to play for a National Championship. And in order to do that you got to win this game tomorrow night. And it's one of those things that no matter how many years you are in this situation, it's maybe even more exciting or more -- you're more anxious for this game than you are for any of the games in the Final Four, because this is the game that puts you in that situation. So, I wish the game was today.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. With UConn on the doorstep of history, all season you guys have been chasing a fourth straight National Championship, there are people who make the argument that UConn's success or dominance is bad for the game or at the very least, boring to watch. When a team is playing at its highest caliber, like you guys are, and you hear that it's bad for the game, how do you respond to that?
BREANNA STEWART: Well, it's funny, I just saw something about that. And I think it's interesting when people say that. If you look at our game yesterday, yeah, there was a huge difference in the score, but the way that we were playing, we were executing everything we needed to execute, and I know speaking for the players, we had a great time.
I think that it's a mixture of both, because people say that women's basketball is boring to watch, but when we're playing at such a high level and because we're beating everyone else, then they don't want to watch it either. So I don't know what they want us to do about it.
Q. (No microphone.)
BREANNA STEWART: You definitely can't win this argument. I think that for women's basketball, we're trying to continue to grow the game, and you can tell that we are with how the tournament has played out so far, with the upsets and that kind of stuff. But it needs to continue. Teams need to get better, players need to get better and that starts from before we even get to college.
Q. Morgan, how close to the perfect game was yesterday's game, in your eyes and in your eyes of your teammates? I don't know if you even think it's possible to play a perfect game, but from our perception it certainly seemed like it was. What's your opinion about that?
MORGAN TUCK: I don't know if you can ever have a perfect game, because there's always things that we could do better. But I think that, especially the first quarter yesterday, that was really good. I think we all know that we played really well and if we can try to do that and do even better, it's going to be really hard for the teams we play against.
Q. Did anything go wrong?
MORGAN TUCK: I can't pick necessarily one thing that went wrong, but I think overall, I think it was a more positive game. I don't think that we -- any of us took anything negative away from it.
Q. I would like each of you to give a quick example, if you could, of what Coach Auriemma has done to keep you from feeling that you're good enough, to keep pushing you and making you continue to improve.
KIA NURSE: Every day in practice it's going to be tough. Coach is going to challenge us in different way that we need to be challenged and making sure that we're in tough situations so that any given time in the game we're ready and prepared for that game.
So it's always something different. Maybe it's mental, maybe it's physical, but he's always throwing another challenge at us each and every day so that we're staying ready.
BREANNA STEWART: Similar to along those lines, obviously, he could get on you about something over and over again and it's the same mistake that you make and as soon as you start to do it better and continue not to make that mistake, he finds something new. And that's something that kind of just makes you continue to want to be great at everything.
MORGAN TUCK: He gives you different challenges that you have to overcome and it's something new each time, so that you're focusing on different parts of your game that you have to improve.
BREANNA STEWART: I'll give more specific examples. He does a lot of different things from benching you, to giving you the silent treatment, to what they're talking about, pushing you in practice and that kind of stuff. But he has a lot of different ways to push each other's buttons or push our buttons, and we're all different people, but he still knows how to light a fire under someone.
KATIE LOU SAMUELSON: I think a big thing that I notice is he doesn't care about the score. A lot of people feel like, oh you guys are up by so many points, but you still play hard and that's because it doesn't matter how much we're up by, if he doesn't like the way we're playing, if we're not playing the way we should, in the locker room it doesn't feel like we're up by that much.
Q. Kia, what has Moriah meant to you as a point guard and what have you learned from her and what will you take forward from that?
KIA NURSE: Obviously, Moriah has meant a lot to me over the last two years. She's done a whole lot for me. Obviously, to have someone like that beside you every single day in practice and in every single game, you learn tons of different stuff, from her leadership to her endless work ethic, how she never tires. So to see that and having an example of it every day, I'm really fortunate.
MORIAH JEFFERSON: Oh, that is so cute.
Q. Breanna, you're not a true five, but you have skill sets of every position on the court. I want you to put your coaching hat on for a minute. If you were a coach, and you had to play against a player such as yourself, what would be some of the things that you would incorporate in your game plan to negate your abilities?
BREANNA STEWART: The things that I've noticed other teams try to do to me defensively is get me in foul trouble. If you can get me out of the game, then that's easy.
But also just being physical. Making sure that I'm not comfortable if I'm posting up and that kind of stuff. But I think I'm handling that a lot better. But I would definitely say foul trouble and the physicality.
Q. After the game yesterday, the coach of Mississippi State said that he thought you guys were good enough to play a NBA team. So --
BREANNA STEWART: NBA or WNBA team?
Q. WNBA team. I'm thinking there's three WNBA players on the dais now and two more coming in future years, and I'm wondering what do you guys think about that? Do you think on your best days you could give the Dallas team a run, or one of the other teams in the league, or do you think that's just folly?
BREANNA STEWART: I think that's an interesting comment and for him to say that, obviously it's a huge honor to us. But there's a difference between college level and pro. And there's an adjustment that the three of us are, or the two of us, are going to have to make this coming year. And what I've noticed from USA basketball and that kind of stuff, is the physical part of it, and the getting stronger, playing stronger. And I'm not sure I'm not going to say that we would be able to be beat a WNBA team, but it's an interesting comment to make.
Q. Moriah, tomorrow's game they're probably going to have extend their zone defense on you. What is some of the things you know to be successful against Texas to come out with a win?
MORIAH JEFFERSON: First off, on defense you're going to have to be aggressive with them. They have huge posts in Imani, and we have to really make sure she limits her touches.
And on the offensive end, try to get the ball to the middle of the zone. They will extend and pressure out, so let's get the ball inside and try to work inside, outside and then go from there.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much. We'll take questions for coach.
Q. A national sports writer noted the score in UConn's win and then said, "Hate to punish them for being great, but they are killing the women's game. Watch? No thanks". How often do you run into that idea that UConn's success?
COACH AURIEMMA: Who said that?
Q. Dan Shaughnessy.
COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah.
Q. That UConn's success --
COACH AURIEMMA: He has a lot of comments from up in Boston. My question is, don't watch. Don't watch. Nobody's putting a gun to your head to watch. So don't watch. And don't write about it. Spend your time on things that you think are important. If you don't think this is important, don't pay any attention to it. The fact that you have to comment on it, says something about you, doesn't it? We are where we are. We are what we are. You know? We do what we do. We do what we do.
When Tiger was winning every major, nobody said he was bad for golf. Actually, he did a lot for golf. He made everybody have to be a better golfer. And they did. And now there's a lot more great golfers because of Tiger. So, there's a lot better writers than Dan Shaughnessy, but that doesn't mean he's bad for the game.
Q. One of your proteges, Carla Berube took Tufts to the championship game. They're playing for the first time Monday night, when you guys are there. Just talk about what she's done for that program and are you going to get a chance to watch them potentially and such?
COACH AURIEMMA: Yeah, I think this is the first time that we're having all three championships, Division I, Division II and Division III. I don't think there's any other ones, but those three are going to be played the same weekend in Indianapolis. And I think it's great for basketball in general, because there's going to be a lot of interest, obviously, that wouldn't ordinarily be there.
The most surprising thing for me is that Carla became a coach. Because in her four-year career at Connecticut, I don't ever remember seeing anything that would lead me to believe that she wanted to coach. And maybe after four years of me, she figures, I could do that.
The fact that she's a really, really good coach and coaching a really good team and year after year, she's been really good. That doesn't surprise me, because she has a quiet strength about her and that's what made her a great player. And I hope -- well, I don't say I hope. I'm going to make sure that I am going to do everything I can to be at that game.
Q. Everyone talks about your going for the 11th title, that's a Wooden thing. One of the coaches that you played earlier said you were the greatest coach of all time. So you're compared to Wooden, some people calling you the greatest of all time. What do you think about you and your program, what you've accomplished? Where would you put you guys on the pantheon of great teams?
COACH AURIEMMA: We all know people like this, right? The people that tell you, I work hard for a living.
Well, people that work really hard for a living don't tell other people that they work really hard for a living. So, I think that the hardest thing for someone to answer is what, you know, what we're talking about right now, is what do I think. And what I think is really not maybe as important as, what do the players think that I've coached over the years, what do they think that we have done, how do they feel about what we have done.
So, if I put it in that perspective, I think over the last 20 years, we have taken a lot of really good high school players and given them opportunities to be great, and we have been given a job to do, my coaching staff and myself. They said, here's an opportunity and what are you going to do with it.
And I think what we have done is we have done our jobs, and we have taken this opportunity, and we have done it as well or better than anybody's ever done it in any sport. And, you know, I think when you try to defend yourself against what she was talking about, the game, you come off sounding like, petty and bitter and all that other stuff, so I certainly don't want to do that.
But, if the average person out there would just take a second and think to themselves, ever in my life have I ever been that good at anything that I've ever tried to do, for that long. Then, you know what? They would understand that what we have done, regardless of who we have done it against, what sport we have done it in, what era we have done it in, we have done something that's really, really, really hard to do. And people that care about us, and the people that I care about, really appreciate it.
Where that stands, where that stacks up, -- Coach Wooden did something that no one will ever, ever do again. Like you could say a lot of things, nobody's ever going to hit 56 straight games again or, you know, whatever. No men's basketball coach is going to win 11 national championships or 10 national championships or seven in a row. You can pretty much make that comment and be true.
So it happened in an era where it was possible. So we're doing something in an era where it's possible. Will it ever happen again? I don't know. But maybe down the road, some other coach will be sitting up here talking about how in their era, they're the best at what they do.
Tomorrow night, it could all come crashing down, and then the Boston Globe will write a big front page story about how UConn got their ass kicked, and then everybody will be happy.
Q. At this stage of the NCAA Tournament, do you think you're coaching more or more of a game manager?
COACH AURIEMMA: When you get to the NCAA Tournament, especially when you get to this point, we always talk about it's not possible to become a better shooter in March than you were in January and February. You're not going to get bigger, you're not going to get stronger, you're not going to get any quicker, you don't all of a sudden become a better passer.
Teams that turn the ball over a lot, all of a sudden in March, aren't going to stop turning the ball over. So the only place where you really can have an effect, at this time of the year, is you can be a little bit smarter than you were last month.
So we spend most of our time, at this time of the year, just trying to be a little bit smarter than we were last month, last week, last game. And we feel like if we can do that, we can take advantage of what our strengths are, and we can hide whatever our weaknesses are. And if we go into every game, and we come out of that game feeling like, you know what, we made better decisions than the other team, then the rest is, do you have the talent to be able to do what you're setting out to do.
I mean, if I was Vic Schaefer, and I was sitting up here, I would be lamenting the fact that my team had to play against Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck. It's not much difference between me and Vic. There's a lot of difference between his players and my players. So at this time of the year, if you've got the right players, you just have to get them in the right mindset.
Q. In terms of how you would define it, or how would you see it, how close did your team come yesterday to playing what someone might call the perfect game? Did they approach it in various fundamental ways?
COACH AURIEMMA: I mean, you know, it's just one game. It was just 40 minutes of basketball. Sometimes making a lot of shots can come across as playing great. So the fact that we made so many shots early on.
I think what we did yesterday, for the most part, and it goes to what I said was, we really made great decisions. We made the right pass at the right time. We made the right defensive move at the right time. We made the right cut at the right time. And I guess that's called being in sync. We were totally in sync with each other. And again, tomorrow's a different day.
But for those first 20 minutes at least, for those 20 minutes, five players were completely in sync with each other. It doesn't happen very often, and when it does happen, obviously, as you saw yesterday, it's pretty special and it's enjoyable to watch.
Q. Last weekend, Breanna had a defensive possession where she blocked three shots, and I want to know what was going through your mind during that defensive possession for Breanna.
COACH AURIEMMA: First of all, I was, like everybody else watching it, I was like, wow, you know. But at the same time, there was a part of me that remembered her freshman year, where she would be afraid to make any play sometimes. Or she would make a play and then stop.
And then to see her be relentless and make this play, that play, that play, it just, you know, I just shook my head and smiled, and I thought, wow, she's come a long way. I was really proud of her, because it was a meaningless game to an average kid.
Now, like you won three national championships, you won MVP at a Final Four three years in a row. So does it really matter if you make those plays in that game? Is that going to affect the outcome of the game? No. It's not. But the fact that she wanted to play the game like it was the most important game of the year, that said a lot to me about who she's become.
Q. Why do you think it is that you personally, as a person and as a coach, never feel like it's good enough and push your players to be better?
COACH AURIEMMA: That's a tough question. And I wish I knew the answer to that. It's Easter Sunday and it's a time when you should be happy and thankful and for whatever reason, I don't know why, I wish I did. I've always been searching for the next thing, searching for what's next, what's out there that's a little better than that, what's out there that's a whole another level than where we're at right now. And that's good and bad, to be honest with you, because there's a point in time where you need to be satisfied with how good you really are, instead of always trying to be better.
You know what I think my biggest strength is as a coach? That I'm way more demanding of my players than I am of myself. And it's not really something to be proud of, but I always feel like I can help somebody get to another level. No matter how good our team is, I think there's something more that we could do. So, I don't know why, I just am never satisfied.
Q. I think you said last weekend how it's tough for our team to play Stewie for the first time and figuring out how to guard her and it takes awhile to get used to just how good she is. Over the last decade, for you guys, when you play teams for the first time or haven't played a team before, no one's beat you in the last, since your title run starting in '99, I think, only a few teams have beaten you. What is it about you guys that if teams haven't seen you before, makes it so tough for them to get a victory?
COACH AURIEMMA: I'm a huge sports fan. And baseball's my favorite sport of all time. One of the biggest changes in the game of baseball in the last, I don't know, 10, 15 years maybe, 20 years, has been the advent of middle relievers and setup men and closers. When I was a kid, if you came out from behind the plate to take Bob Gibson out of a game, he might like knock your head off. He didn't come out of games. And why do you do that? Because when you see people for the first time, it takes awhile to get adjusted.
So, in a game of basketball, we come out, we come at you and if you're not familiar with what we do, how we do it, the pace that we play at, it's hard to make that adjustment. By the time you figure it out, it might be too late.
I don't know that it's anything, anything special or anything like that, I just think there's a pace that we want to play at and that's what we practice every day. For five months, we practice at a certain pace. So we want to create that pace. And then if a team, if a team can manage that and handle that, then we're in for a dog fight.
And if they can't, after playing us a couple times, they figure out what the pace is. But for the first time, it's like facing a pitcher for the first time that you've never seen. You just don't have a read on it. It takes awhile.
Q. I'm afraid this one might touch a nerve a little bit, so I'll start out by saying Geno's Grille and the Geno Wine are both very good?
COACH AURIEMMA: Not bad, huh?
Q. Very good.
COACH AURIEMMA: Thank you.
Q. You just said a second ago that, I don't think I wrote it down exactly what you said. But at some point, you need to be satisfied with where you are and not keep trying to get better. Are you close to that yet? And then, the second part is, everyone keeps talking about, oh, yeah, Geno's great, but it's the women's game. Do you have a desire to go to the men's game, no one ever says, oh, you're a great stock broker, but you should be a lawyer?
COACH AURIEMMA: Right. I know. Isn't that funny? Because only men are true athletes. So if you coach men, then you coach real athletes.
Q. You don't believe that.
COACH AURIEMMA: Well, I mean, of course I don't believe that. So, whoever those men are that coach those professional women's tennis players, if they were any good they would be coaching men's tennis players, right? So, it's the world that we live in. It's the world that we live in. When I coached, when I coached high school, when I coached high school girls, I was 21 years old. A guy asked me to do him a favor, so I did. I didn't go, you know what, some day I want to be talking to a guy from the L.A. Times about John Wooden. I did it because I like the game and I thought this could be fun. So I did it and it was fun. And we won some games. And then when Phil Martelli, coach of Saint Joe's asked me to be his assistant, I said, that could be fun. So I did it. And I thought, this could be fun for the rest of my life. I could teach school and coach high school boys. This could be a lot of fun for the rest of my life. And then he said, why don't you go to University of Virginia and be an assistant women's coach. I said, that could be fun. I've never been to Charlottesville, I never been at a school like UVA. Let me try it. And then when I got the job at Connecticut, I thought, yeah, this could be really cool. So, now, you know, 30, 40 years later, I'm sitting here and I'm thinking, wow, I didn't realize so many people thought that was a dumb-ass idea. That I got it all wrong. That I should be doing something completely different because I'm a guy. It just, I'm always baffled by especially in basketball, why everything has to be compared to the men. Why? I have never heard Serena Williams have to answer a question, well if you're any good, stop beating all those women, why don't you play Roger Federer. That's not the point, is it? You just compete against the people you compete against. And that should be good enough. And that's one of the problems that I have with our Olympic team. I coached the most dominant women's national team in the world. We won five straight gold medals, I think, something like that. And yet we're never good enough because we're at the same venue as the greatest team in the world with the greatest players in the world, so weather always being compared to that. Yet no one ever compares our women's World Cup soccer team to our men. But no matter what Diana Taurasi does, no matter what Simone Augustus does, no matter what any of those kids do, well, you're not LeBron. Yeah, you're pretty good, but you're not Kevin Durant. You kidding me? And all the guys and all the people that are saying that, neither are you. As a matter of fact, you're not Diana Taurasi even.
So we don't appreciate people for how good they are and what a good job they do, we always have to compare it to something. And it's only in women's basketball. It's the only sport where that happens. The only sport. Day in, day out, year in, year out, we're faced with those questions and those comparisons. No other sport is. No other athlete is ever subjected to the same thing as a woman's basketball player. And Breanna Stewart, when she gets to the WNBA, or if she makes the Olympic team, yeah, she's good, but she couldn't beat Kevin Durant. Every day. Every day. Every day. And after awhile -- I'm proud of the way those kids handle themselves -- you just get tired of answering those questions. You get tired of all the idiot guys that played JV basketball weighing in their two cents going, UConn couldn't beat a good high school boy's basketball team. Right, the one you couldn't play on, probably. It's amazing. It's absolutely amazing. And I really admire how hard they play and how competitive they are, and how passionate they are and I have even more respect for them as I get older because of how little respect some people have for what they do.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much, coach for your time.
COACH AURIEMMA: Thank you.
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