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March 5, 2017

Joe Tartamella

Aaliyah Lewis

Chicago, Illinois

St. John's - 56, Villanova - 40

JOE TARTAMELLA: Yeah, really proud of our effort tonight. This has been an elephant in the room for about five games for us, and Villanova has kind of beat us up a little bit in the last five. Really just proud of how we were able to take control of the game probably after the first possession of the game that they had. Coming into half tied, we felt pretty good about how we guarded, and we felt if we could produce that same effort in the second half, we felt we could score at a higher rate than we did. Obviously having Akina out with foul trouble, and then Aaliyah Lewis was as good as she's been, and couldn't happen to a better player or a better kid.

We know how special she is, and she showed it tonight against obviously a very well-coached team.

I thought we won a lot of the areas we needed to. We came in with a deficit on the glass. We were able to finish that on the plus side. They had more second chance points. They had zero in the second half. We did a lot of things that we tried to prepare for, and we saw a lot of engagement from everybody on our team. Really pleased with the effort.

And now we've got to get ready quickly obviously as we turn for tomorrow against DePaul.

Q. Aliyyah, coming into this tournament as defending champions of last year, do you guys have the same mindset coming into this tournament?
AALIYAH LEWIS: Yes, I'll say we have the same mindset. You know, we're kind of in the same predicament as last year, three games in three days, so we just take each game day by day, and we already got one down, and we're on to the next.

Q. Aliyyah, what would you say was the key to you being able to score the ball so well tonight?
AALIYAH LEWIS: I sat down and watched film with Coach, and he told me to push the ball in transition. I executed the game plan, and I think that was my strength tonight.

Q. This game is tied at 23. Coach said you felt pretty good. What shifted, though, for you guys to really separate yourselves?
AALIYAH LEWIS: I would say our energy and also we stayed together the whole time, and we just told each other we know they're going to make shots but we've got to keep our head up and stay mentally focused. We just executed the game plan on the defensive end and and we got out and scored and that got us the win today.

Q. Was that elephant in the room on the players' minds going into this that you didn't want to see your season end to the team you've had trouble beating?
AALIYAH LEWIS: True. I think it's probably been four or five games we consistently kept losing to them, and now we're in the tournament, and this is the opponent that we wanted to face against, and we got them today, and we played really well, and I'm happy for my team.

Q. That defensive identity this team has, how much could that matter in a game like tomorrow against such a high-powered attack in DePaul?
AALIYAH LEWIS: Yeah, we know DePaul are a great offensive team and we're a great defensive team, so we're all going to lock in tonight, watch a little bit of film, and we're going to be ready.

Q. Obviously tonight you were awarded your trophy for Defensive Player of the Year in the BIG EAST Conference and you were able to come out and provide some amazing defense. Can you elaborate for us a bit how you were able to really lock down on Villanova and take advantage and provide some amazing defense?
AALIYAH LEWIS: I was just using my strength. I'm quicker than everybody, just get out in transition. I'm smaller than everyone, they're going to try to bully me inside, posting me up, just stay in front and be physical right back with them and stay focused the whole time. That's it, just play my game.

Q. Just take us into what the overall game plan was. Obviously you were very successful, but what did you see from this game that you're going to be able to take over tomorrow to DePaul, and what worked for you guys best?
JOE TARTAMELLA: I mean, Villanova is such a unique team in how they play, but so is DePaul. Creighton plays in a similar fashion. But you know, I think the takeaway for us is just our ability to prepare for a game, execute that game plan, and then play as a group and really play the 40 minutes. The goal was to win every five, obviously, and win every 10 minutes as you go through. We didn't do that in the second. However, we did it three out of four. And for us, finishing the third and the fourth, and the third quarter kind of tells it all at 21-6 where you can kind of take a stranglehold of the game.

You know what, I think the way we're able to guard didn't -- I thought affected us in a positive way, where in the past it's affected us in a negative way. Sometimes we would let a play on one end affect us on the other end, and tonight we didn't do that, and that's a big thing is next play, especially in postseason it's huge because you've got to get over the play before.

So I thought we did a really good job. I thought Jade -- and I talked with Jade for a while about how we wanted to play her in this game, and I thought she really bought into it. And her numbers may not look the same, but what she provided us was really important for us to win, and we're going to need that moving forward, as well.

Just really pleased. I mean, people forget we lose Imani the last eight games of the year, a kid who was playing the best she's played, giving us a lot of versatility defensively, so we're trying to figure that out. And Maya has done an unbelievable job stepping in, and we knew she was that good.

But I think tonight is about Aliyyah. Tonight really was her night, and we need that from her since that's what she can do. But it's not about one player. I think we take away here that when we really dig in and play as a group that we can accomplish things that they may not even think were possible, and that's the beauty of any game.

I'm just pleased that they were able to get over that hump of being able to beat this team.

Q. Aliyyah has been the floor general, really the heart and soul of this team, but a lot of times you see her dishing out assists, but today she was able to shoot from range. How much does that impact the momentum of this team offensively when she's knocking down shots from range?
JOE TARTAMELLA: I think everybody's game plan is for her to shoot it, so it changes a lot of people's thought process through the game. So when she can do that, it's kind of put the hands up in the air and tip your hat sometimes.

But I think when she's making shots, it changes the complexion of our team because now you don't just have maybe one or two guys that can flick it on you, but her game just then expands, because now if you have to respect the outside shot, she can go by you. And really, I think for her she's worked on this, she's worked on it her whole career. It hasn't been probably as consistent as she'd like it to be, but the lights were on tonight and the pressure was on tonight, and these are the kids that play for us, and they want to be in these moments, and they're going to have more.

You know, but the beauty of it is to watch them really play well, all right, so really, really happy for her.

Q. What kind of legacy does she leave on this program?
JOE TARTAMELLA: I think people look at her and they marvel, oh, I love that kid. They don't watch her every day. That kid has practiced every single day she's been here. She does not take a day off. She practices as hard as you watch her play out there. I think she squats three times her weight, like benches like twice her weight. She's a freak. She really is. And that's her like just at a normal day. You know, and so I marvel at what she does on a daily basis. I'm really proud of how she's grown from a leadership standpoint because she's not an overly vocal person. She started her first 10 games as a freshman, and then I sat her because I had Eugenia McPherson came off an ACL that year, and she was a fifth-year senior, and we plugged her in. And Aliyyah had to go from starting 10 games to then coming off the bench on a team that played in the final of the Big East Championship that year and played in the tournament and went to the second round.

And so I knew at that moment that we had a pretty special kid, but I knew when I watched her at Bishop Ford High School she would take a ferry and a bus two hours each way to get to high school. What kid would do that? A kid from New York, but kids do that. I'll miss her more than she'll be know, but her legacy will be one that -- it's one for the little guys, I guess, is like the -- as you would say. But people like -- thanks for taking -- people tell me thanks for taking a chance on a kid who's small, like people who have kids who are smaller, like parents who just watch. So people look up to her that she doesn't even know.

I'm really happy for her, but I know she wants more. She doesn't just want it to be about her, she wants it to be about winning, and that's been the biggest thing in our program over the years is to make sure it's about the group and not one player and being able to win these types of games.

Q. Seeing how tonight's starting five played against Villanova after struggling this season, are you going to use the same starting lineup tomorrow night or are you going to change it up a little bit?
JOE TARTAMELLA: Wow, we'll keep them guessing. I mean, I've started the same lineup every game. Outside of Maya stepped in for Imani. I don't know, we'll see what happens. But I think they probably know what we're going to do.

But no, I've been pleased with our group who's started the games. We've had Maya step in for Imani. You've got to be able to adjust on the fly. I thought we did a good job of that today because lineups, again, playing bigger, playing smaller. DePaul can give you mismatches. I would expect the tempo to be pretty high octane, plus they had the ability to rest some players today in their game.

But it's this time of year. You know, this is what it's all about. This is why you prepare when you're really in July.

Again, you don't know what's going to happen at the end of the year, but the guys that don't play as much and really for me from the beginning to the end, they were as engaged as they've ever been in a game for 40 minutes, and so that to me was really pleasing to be able to see, especially when they had an opportunity to maybe get in for a couple minutes.

But we have players on our team now that may have played limited minutes that have to do some big things tomorrow. So we'll see. But I would expect us to -- I think we're pretty much an open book at this point. So I would think we'd have something similar tomorrow, yeah.

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