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March 27, 2018

Jeff Walz

Columbus, Ohio

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, welcome to today's women's Final Four head coach media teleconference. For the next several minutes you'll have the opportunity to visit with the Louisville Cardinals head coach Jeff Walz. Louisville is participating in its third Women's Final Four, after appearances in 2009 and 2013. With that, I'll ask Coach Walz to come on and provide an opening statement.

JEFF WALZ: I appreciate this. We are honored to be a part of the Final Four with three other fantastic programs, and just our players are excited, the staff is excited. It's a lot of work that goes into this, and as everyone knows you've got to be playing your best basketball at the right time, and we feel we're playing pretty well right now. Looking forward to a great challenge in front of us in Mississippi State.

Q. I wanted to ask you about Stephanie Norman. She's obviously been there with you the whole time. I'm just curious what makes that dynamic with the two of you effective and has over the years? And the same way that Geno was asked for so many years about C.D. leaving, have you ever thought you were close to Stephanie leaving?
JEFF WALZ: First, I'll just start with Steph and I, our friendship. It's been 11 years that we've worked here together. We knew of each other before she became part of the staff 11 years ago, just from all the recruiting, all the travels that you do in this business. But it's not as though we were, so-called, real good friends. Then when I did get this job that was someone that I contacted and asked if she would be interested. She was looking for a new opportunity at that time. It's been a great 11-year relationship.

I consider Steph a friend. I considered her family a part of ours. It's been great. She knows what I'm looking for. We work extremely well together. She knows how I like to handle players, the type of players that we're trying to recruit. She understands it. She has a family of her own. She has two children, I have four, and sometimes you've got to run and take care of family things and we cover for each other.

It's just been a terrific working relationship. I'm not foolish enough to think that Steph could not go get a job whenever she wanted to. She's one of the best recruiters in the business. She's excellent with Xs and Os. She's had some opportunities. Some people have called her. She just hasn't felt like it's been the right opportunity, the right school.

We've had great success here and she enjoys winning. She loves to win. She knows she has a ton of freedom to do what she wants when it comes to recruiting, and even basketball. I count on my staff a great deal. I want them to have the confidence to be able to give their two cents and give their opinion. And as I tell them all the time, hey, I'm willing to listen to whatever you all suggest, as long as it works.

Q. I'm just wondering, when you took the job at Louisville, obviously they had some experience in the tournament, but nothing to the extent you've seen since you got there. Did you envision this level of success when you took over the program? I'm sure you want to achieve great things and go far. But to do what you've done in the time that you've been there compared to what happened before you, did you expect this level of success?
JEFF WALZ: I actually -- when I took the job here, I was just grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a head coach. I'm forever indebted to Tom Jurich. When Tom was here, he was the athletic director that hired me, I had applied at several other smaller jobs throughout my years, and could never even get an in-person interview. So when this opportunity came about and they reached out, I was like, hey, I'll take the job.

I can remember 11 years ago sitting in the Marriott downtown Louisville and Tom offered me the job, and he asked me, "What will it take?" And I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "What kind of salary?" I said, "I don't care. Are you offering me the job?" I said, "Yeah, I'll take it."

So I took the job, accepted it. Had a press conference before we even knew what a salary was going to be because I just wanted to get this opportunity to be a head coach. I would never take a job without the chance to think we could do some special things.

But to have the opportunity to play in four Elite Eights and now be in three Final Fours in 11 seasons, I wouldn't say that we thought that was going to happen. But as we've continued to build this program and recruit some special players and special families, it's been neat to see it develop and grow throughout the years.

Q. As a follow-up, as you mentioned Tom hiring you, obviously it's been somewhat of a tough year for the men's program. How has it been -- what has it been like? You share practice space with them and such, but just continuing to do what you do while also seeing your counterparts on the men's side go through some tough times this year. What's that been like for your program?
JEFF WALZ: Well, we're fortunate. We're in the same building, but they have their own practice facility. We have our own practice facility. The men's players are fantastic. Just wonderful young men. They'll stop by, swing by through the office. I've seen most of them this past few days that have come out and congratulated us. Their staff has come over to congratulate us.

You know, we all support each other. It's what it's about in college athletics. There is going to be some change that is going to be made here on our men's side. I wish David the best because I enjoyed the relationship that I had to get to know him over the past few years, and their entire staff. I mean, it's the tough part of the job, but it's been good here.

The men's program has been fantastic to us. I had a wonderful relationship for ten years with Coach Pitino. I consider Coach a friend. I wish him nothing but the best. I'm looking forward to seeing him hopefully get back in the game, because I think he's good for the game, and he's a fantastic coach. I wish David and the entire staff nothing but the best.

Q. Your match-up with big Teaira McCowan, the 6'7" kid, there are not too many people that can match-up with her. How difficult a task do you think that will be?
JEFF WALZ: Well, I'm hoping Vic decides to drive the bus and makes a wrong turn somewhere. So if we can have that happen, I'll feel much better.

No, the thing about them, Teaira and Victoria, they get most of the attention on that ballclub. But you've got to have five, six players that can play and score at this time of the year, and that's what they have. So, sure, you've got T averaging 18 points, about 14 boards a night. Victoria's actually close to 20 and 7. It goes down. Just phenomenal team, and that's what it's all about.

So we're going to have our hands full. We know that. We're going to try to come up with a plan and figure out what we can do to try to slow them down.

You aren't going to stop them. That's one thing I can tell you for sure. There is no stopping Vic and that offense, and the way his kids can shoot and shoot the basketball and score. So it's going to be can we score? And that's one of the things that we're going to talk about today and continue to work on. Our offensive efficiency has to be very good in order for us to win and compete on Friday night.

Q. One thing you said about the balanced scoring, that's one thing that you've had going for you lately. I know you've had a run in the tournament and you've been playing really, really well. You've found the right mix of your players and they're scoring. How do you feel about that going into this game?
JEFF WALZ: Well, I really like how we're playing right now. I like what we're doing at the offensive end. I like how we're sharing the basketball, we're making the extra pass. We're really getting downhill towards the basket, trying to get tempo, and that's what we have to continue to do. I don't want bad shots, but I do want the ball moving, I do want us playing quick.

Q. Every team has an identity. Just wondering, the people of Columbus, what are they going to see from the Cards? What do you guys hang your hat on?
JEFF WALZ: Well, you're going to see a ballclub that's going to come out and compete. That's one thing we containing a lot of pride in. We don't ever look past the game in front of us. We look at that next game, which is, for us, the Mississippi State game. We're very fortunate that we play our home games and we average close to 9 to 10,000 every single night. And I tell our kids every time before we go out on the floor, it's our job as coaches, as marketing people to get the fans to show up. It's their job to make sure they want to come back. So they take a lot of pride in that.

It's not always the scoreboard because we've lost some games at home. It's not just beating somebody, it's how you play. I think what you'll see on Friday night is a group of young women who will go out there and play hard for 40 minutes.

I tell them all the time, don't worry about the scoreboard. The scoreboard will normally take care of itself, if you give great effort and execute for 40 minutes.

Q. As a follow-up, you're known for your defense, and so is Mississippi State. What are the concerns when you have two teams that just go after it and press, and really get after it defensively? Is it the offense doesn't drop off? You talked about efficiency. Is that, as a coach, when you have two scrappy teams, the offense you have to keep a special eye on that?
JEFF WALZ: No, I mean, I'm not really concerned about that. I know everybody's saying, hey, we both guard, we both get after it. Vic's averaging 82 points a game right now, and I think we're in the mid to high 70s. So I could just as well see an extremely high-scoring game on Friday night, because I know Vic's probably saying the same thing to his crew that, hey, we have to score. We have to continue to score in order to win.

You look at his four NCAA Tournament games, they're 95, 71, 71, 89. So they continue to put points on the board, and that's what we're going to have to try and do. We'll obviously guard and so will they. But I think it's going to be try to focus on scoring the ball.

Q. You've kind of discussed already the match-ups. You've never played this team before. Maybe you could talk about what are the differences between the playing styles of your team out of Mississippi State?
JEFF WALZ: Well, I see a lot of similarities in the way we both play. We're both trying to get the tempo of the game going. We both like to push the ball. We're willing to shoot the three. But at the same time, we are looking to try to go inside out.

Now I don't have Teaira in there at 6'7", but I've got four players that play in the post fourth that might not necessarily be the back to the basket, but we can make post moves when needed. We like to face-up, shoot it from 15 to 18 feet. So it's going to be different challenges for both teams.

But I think the guard play is extremely strong. Like I said, we both have the ability to knock down threes. I just think it's going to be a great basketball game.

Q. You've had such a momentous season this year. Did you see that coming into the season, and what do you think contributed to all the Cardinals coming together the way they have this season?
JEFF WALZ: Well, I think first off our locker room is as good as it's ever been. We have everybody that's actually excited for each other. There is nobody just kind of out for their own. If things aren't going well for them, they're going to try to get a teammate to jump on their bus. We're all in this to try to have the most successful season as we can.

You can just go back and look at some of our games. You look at some of the shots that Asia Durr makes at the end of quarters, and the bench is jumping off the bench to come congratulate her.

Then I go to our ACC Tournament, where Asia played well, but she did not make first team or second team All-ACC Tournament. And when they're passing out those awards and we're on the stage there, and they announce Myisha Hines-Allen as the tournament MVP, Asia was the first one to give her a hug. Asia was the first one to congratulate her because these kids don't care. All they want to do is win.

Everybody knows there could be somebody else each night, and that's what makes it as special as it is because they truly care about each other.

We haven't necessarily had it to that degree in the past. Now I think with the players that have decided to be here and want to be here, it's remarkable. My life has been better. I've been able to go home and enjoy my family. I don't have to worry about what somebody's going to do or what they might not say. It's just been good, good character people. It's remarkable. It's just been one of the most enjoyable years that I've had.

I tell people all the time. They think I'm crazy. The year we went 14-18 here, and I had Shelby Harper as my point guard who was a walk-on, that was one of my enjoyable years. I tell you, in the top two or three.

Just the character of the kids and winning games, that's why I say this -- and I want to make sure I said it, it's not just all about winning 35, 36 games, whatever our record is -- because that 14-18 year, I have as many fond memories of that team as I do this team.

Q. I wanted to ask you, how does the potent back court match-up with Mississippi State's defense?
JEFF WALZ: Well, I'll tell you that about 9:00 on Friday night I'm hoping that our offense can handle their defense. It's going to be a great basketball game. We all have strengths. I know what Morgan Williams can do on the ball. I know Blair plays unbelievable weakside defense. She takes as many charges as anybody I've seen on film.

They're just a really, really good basketball team. They're very well coached. They make it difficult for you. But we're going to come in with a game plan and try to relieve some of that pressure and see if we can't take advantage of a few things.

Q. How much of a factor will Asia Durr have on this game coming up?
JEFF WALZ: I hope a lot. The more factor she has, the more influence she has, the better it is for me.

Q. You guys played one of the great games against a great center a few years back with Brittney Griner and Baylor and beating them. I'm not asking you to give me your whole game plan against Teaira McCowan, obviously. But when you're facing a good player like that, you have very good post players, but somebody with that strength and who is that big, do you sort of go in saying we have three or four different things that we're going to try and say we'll see how they work and have those adjustments ready? Is that how you approach somebody who comes with that much size and strength?
JEFF WALZ: Yes, you have to in my opinion. You know, if our option A works, fantastic. You know, we can stick with it. But if option A does not work, you have to have plan B.

I laugh all the time. I tell my staff I always have a plan A and a plan B. We were either going to be in Columbus playing in a Final Four or I was going on a ski trip Thursday. So I just cancelled my ski trip yesterday because we're going to Columbus to play. So it's just the same way that we coach.

If plan A is not going to work, you have to have plan B. And with as talented a player as Teaira is, we're going to most likely have to have a plan C also.

Q. If I could follow up on that just about the plans. You're known as a great strategic coach, but in the past few years, and even the last year or so, there's been more data available in terms of advanced stats, different things you can look toward. How much have you utilized that to increase your preparation, or has that meant anything?
JEFF WALZ: You know what? I really haven't used much of that. I know there is a lot of it out there. A lot of it is way over my head. I just found out one of our local reporters said he had a friend that's at MIT that does all the stats for men's and women's basketball and said, our regional semifinal and final game, we never let either team go on more than a three-point run, which is pretty impressive. Knowing with the three-point shot, they never made back-to-back baskets in two consecutive games.

Now I don't know if that's true, but that's what he told me, which is something I'm going to be able to go relay to our players today when we practice, just about the effort they gave and the focus. Because at this time of the year, I tell everybody, it's all about momentum. It's not about your seeding. We're all number one seeds. It's all about momentum, and momentum during the game. Do you let yourself -- if you get the momentum, are you able to go on a 10-0 run or do you get it to a 14-0 run, or is it something where it's 4-0, and you've got to breakaway and you make a bad pass, and it goes out of bounds and now Mississippi State gets the ball and comes down and scores.

So we've been very fortunate these four games where we've had the momentum on our side that we've really run with it. And that's what we've got to continue to focus on.

Q. I asked this of this team this year, which has been very important, but may not get some of the attention of some of the other aspects of Louisville, the guard play of Arica Carter, and Dana Evans this year as a point guard. Just talk about what they mean to this team this year?
JEFF WALZ: Yeah, Arica and Dana have done a fantastic job for us. I think that's one of the biggest differences also from last year's team to this year's team. You know, Taylor Johnson and Briahanna Jackson were our point guards last year and did a fantastic job. Defensively they were probably better right now because they were seniors, fifth-year seniors. But offensively is where things have changed for us.

Arica Carter is shooting close to 40% from three. Dana Evans is able to penetrate. Has a great pull-up jumpshot. Has the ability to knock down threes. So because both of those are able to score, I think it's really put more pressure on the defenses.

Q. As a quick follow-up, one of your assistant coaches, Michelle Clark-Heard named assistant coach at Cincinnati. Your thoughts on that?
JEFF WALZ: Just really excited about Michelle. I knew she had worked there. And Michelle and I have been friends for 20 years. She's done a remarkable job down at Western Kentucky, how she brought that program back into winning conference championships, playing in the NCAA Tournament. And now having worked in Cincinnati before and being originally from Louisville, it keeps her close to home and family. But will give her a new challenge.

But I expect Michelle to do extremely well. I just think she's a wonderful person and will do great at Cincinnati.

Q. When you think about Mississippi State and the job that Vic Schaefer has done, what stands out to you? And how is he thought of within the profession?
JEFF WALZ: I think Vic's very well liked. I can just speak for myself, I think Vic's a great guy. I think he does a fantastic job. I actually consider Vic to be a friend, someone that I can pick up the phone and talk to. I'm hoping to get a chance to see him tonight and visit with him.

They're just very well coached. He's done a fantastic job recruiting. We actually recruited Victoria Vivians also, and he did a great job of getting her there. Then he's done a remarkable job of recruiting around, and that's what you do. You fill in pieces. He's really filled in his pieces well.

It should be a great basketball game. All these games should be outstanding. We know we're going to have to play our best. And we're looking forward to it.

Q. How would you describe Vic's personality?
JEFF WALZ: Vic, I think he's outgoing. I think he's got a great personality. He enjoys life. He's someone that's going to make the most of the moment. I think we have a lot of similarities.

We put a lot of time, a lot of hard work and dedication into what we do. But at the same time you want to make sure you enjoy it. We're getting the opportunity to go back to our third Final Four here in 11 years. It's not easy. I'm going to make sure my players enjoy every second of it. I want to make sure my staff enjoys every second of it.

We'll be ready to play, there is no question about it. But there is no sense to sit in your room or sit in a hotel and not get a chance to soak in what Columbus has to offer, especially as your host city for the Final Four.

Q. You talked a little bit about how this is going to be your first time playing Mississippi State. I'm wondering what that does to your coaching staff who is already under a time crunch, and I'm assuming hasn't been getting much sleep this tournament and stuff like that. But how does that change the process and preparation for you guys?
JEFF WALZ: No, it really doesn't change anything, because we had the same situation with playing Stanford and then Oregon State. We hadn't played either of those two teams before, so it was a first.

So it was just a matter of breaking down film. We all jump in this together. We'll break down as many as we can. Look for tendencies and look for things that we can hopefully try to attack. But it's fun. It's the fun part of the job. I say it all the time. In 2006 when I was on staff at Maryland and we won the National Championship, it was an awesome experience. But at the same time, we played North Carolina in the semis who we had played twice during the regular season.

Then we played Duke for the championship, which we had played three times, I think, because I think they beat us in the ACC finals or semifinals that year. Sew sometimes it's exciting when you play somebody you haven't played, because it is a fresh set of eyes and new scout and new challenges.

Q. I was curious about Myisha Hines-Allen. I know when she signed out of high school, you had to check in with her daily to make sure he was staying on top of school. And there were questions about if she played hard all the time and if she knew what that meant. What was her path from that point to who she is now?
JEFF WALZ: Well, it's been a remarkable journey. She is an absolute joy to coach and to have a part of our program. She'll go down as one of the best players that's ever played here. She had 2000 points and 1000 rebounds, and you're looking at Angel McCoughtry is the only other player to have done that. When you're up there with her, that's pretty good company to be hanging with.

It has been a journey. You go from somebody that out of high school we had the challenge of academically, work ethic-wise. But she wanted guidance. She wanted structure. And when she got here, she's really flourished.

As the years have gone on, she's gotten better. She's gotten more focused. Now she's playing some of the best basketball that she's ever played, and that's a testament to her. She's been on our AD honor role, which I believe is a 3.0 or above for six of her seven semesters that she's finished. She's in her eighth semester right now. We're hoping she can repeat that.

This is a kid that had to get focused and get dialed in to be able to get into college, to be able to play. And now with the structure that we've been able to give her and the support, she is thriving both in the classroom and on the basketball court.

Q. Obviously you played UCONN this year. UCONN, it's the team that's between you and two possible National Championships previously. But as you look at them, is what Geno has done and what they've done, have they been good for women's basketball, or have they sort of like taken away from everybody else? What is your view on that?
JEFF WALZ: They're absolutely great for women's basketball. My only question is when Alabama goes to play for a National Championship, are you all calling down there and asking them if they're bad for the game because they beat the crap out of somebody 66-30 starting off the year? They sweep through the SEC, beating the tar out of everybody. Do they call down there and say, man, they're bad for the game? No.

It's just what everybody does because nobody wants to see somebody, I guess, have excellence like they've had. Actually it's getting to a point now where it's like, guys, should he just lose to make all of you happy or what? They've done a remarkable job. Give credit where credit is due.

No, it's not bad for the game. Nobody was saying when John Wooden was winning 10 in a row and all that stuff that UCLA was bad for the men's game. It's really just a shame that people can't enjoy and appreciate how good they are. I mean, it's pretty darn impressive.

I mean, they show up every single night. He gets great players, which, I mean, it's what we're all trying to do. But what is more remarkable is how consistent they play every single night. So, no. If anybody thinks they're bad for the game, stop watching the gym. Go try to watch a paddle board game or something, go watch checkers, because if you can't appreciate it, then, please don't even cover it.

Q. How high is that bar that everybody's trying to get to? Obviously, when Geno got into it, it was Tennessee everybody was chasing. Have you seen just the women's game elevated by chasing that bar, so to speak?
JEFF WALZ: Well, of course. There is no question about it. We had a great ballgame at their place. We came out, stunk it up in the first quarter, continued to battle and fight. I think we lose by 12 or 13. They had a great game in the Final Four last year with Mississippi State.

So it's a great challenge. It's fun. We're all sitting here, as you said, we're sitting here with two runner ups that I would have loved to have had a National Championship. But I'm not sitting here going, man, I wish UCONN didn't exist so we could have won. Well, somebody else may have beaten us.

So it's just a credit for what Geno has done and how he's continued to build that program. I admire it and respect it.

Q. You all played them as tough as anyone. But what do you remember from them back in February that sticks out in your mind when I bring them up right now?
JEFF WALZ: Well, they score. They score the basketball. That's what I tell everybody all the time. In order to beat UCONN, you have to score the basketball. Their defense is as good as it is because their offense is so good. You go on a two-minute, three-minute drought, and they've scored 8 to 10 points. So because they're able to score it as well as they do, that puts pressure on your offense, just as much as their defense puts pressure on you. So at times you've got to figure out a way just to slow them down so you don't have as much pressure on yourself to score every possession.

Q. You were talking about Dana. The one thing I remember about Dana coming out of high school is she was one of those kids that was all score, score, score. She had to do everything for her team as far as shoot the ball. What kind of things did you instill in her to get her to be more of a pass-first point guard? And on the defense, she does a great job.
JEFF WALZ: You know what? She has been a joy to coach. I've got a great -- I've built a great relationship with her. I keep telling her she has a chance to be an elite point guard at this level, and it is different for her.

She averaged 36 points a game last year in high school. Now it's about teaching her about efficiency. Teaching her, hey, I want you to be able to get to the point where you're getting 16, 17 points a night. But with that being said, I want you to do it with taking 15, 16 shots a game, and that's the difference.

In high school, when you're the player sometimes and you have to do that, you have to score in the 30s, well, you might be taking 25 or 30 shots a game. You know, that's kind of what I like to show our players is don't just look at how many points somebody's scoring, but look at how efficient they're able to do it. Because it doesn't impress me if you can score 25 points a game, but you're taking 41, 42 shots a game. I could do that. Well, you probably couldn't. I've seen you play (laughing). You know I'm kidding.

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