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March 29, 2018
THE MODERATOR: Joining us on the dais, for Louisville, head coach Jeff Walz, student-athletes Myisha Hines-Allen, Arica Carter, and Asia Durr. We'll start with a statement from Coach Walz.
JEFF WALZ: Just wanted to thank Columbus, the organizing committee, everyone that's been involved. It's been an absolutely wonderful experience for our student-athletes, our staffs, our families. It's been first class. We're just honored to be a part of it.
We're looking forward to a wonderful ball game tomorrow night against a very well coached team, a very talented team. Just excited. It's a great time of the year. You work as hard as we have the entire year to hopefully have the opportunity to get to this point, and now we're here, and I know these young women are excited to start playing.
Q. For Myisha, these teams are very, very similar in a lot of ways, but what are the biggest differences you see between yourselves and Mississippi State?
MYISHA HINES-ALLEN: When we watch film, I don't really see like a big difference. They run kind of the same plays that we do. They want to push the ball, but they're really good at half-court sets too. So there's not a lot of differences. They have a true post player in Teaira McCowan, and me, Sam, Bionca, and Kylee are your nontraditional post players. I would say personnel would be the only difference, but we run the same kind of plays.
Q. Myisha, you've been around Coach now for four years. Just what have you learned from him? What of his personality has rubbed off on you guys? And what's the best thing you've learned?
JEFF WALZ: How much time does she have? Where do you want to start?
MYISHA HINES-ALLEN: Yeah, right?
JEFF WALZ: Oh, man, that was a good one. I'm laughing. That was funny.
MYISHA HINES-ALLEN: No, he's just a competitor, and I think we've all taken away from that, got that from him. But I mean, yeah, he's a competitor. He loves to fight.
JEFF WALZ: That's all I get, Doug.
MYISHA HINES-ALLEN: That's all you get.
JEFF WALZ: Thank you.
Q. Myisha, how does your game change when you're playing a true post player? And how do you compensate for the height difference?
MYISHA HINES-ALLEN: We've played different post players already that have been taller than us, but it's your competitiveness. If you want to fight, if you want to just complain and say, oh, she's taller than me. I can't get around her. I can't box her out. I can't play defense on her. Then you shouldn't be here.
But we've earned the right to be here, so we're going to fight and try our hardest.
Q. Asia, how do you stay consistent in your preparation and what you've done all year when you're in such a new experience with so many things coming at you?
ASIA DURR: It's been the same thing that we've been doing from day one, from the first game. So, yeah, it's the Final Four. We truly appreciate it. But I mean, if you just think about it, it's just another game. That's what we're all trying to think about. We're just trying to have fun. We're all in, but this is just another game for us.
Q. Arica, my question for you is: What is the key for you guys to be successful tomorrow against a team, as we said, is sort of the mirror image of you guys? What are the keys you have to do to be successful and come out with the win?
ARICA CARTER: I feel like we have to stay within ourselves. Even though we're very much alike, we do have some differences. So I think we have to stay within ourselves and play hard, get all the 50-50 balls, and try to frustrate them as much as we can.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies. We'll start right up here with questions for Coach Walz.
Q. Jeff, when Vic was in here, he was saying that you could pretty much flip-flop and coach each other's teams. That's how similar he thinks your teams are. What do you think about that?
JEFF WALZ: I would agree with that. After going back and watching his teams play, and knowing Vic -- you know, I consider Vic a friend, and I know how he does things. He demands the best from his players. He challenges his players. But at the same time, it's what we do here at Louisville, but the same thing is done that -- players want to be coached. Great players want to be pushed to be great, as long as they know you love them off the floor and you care about them. And that's what I know Vic's players feel. I know my players feel that same thing. It's about building relationships and building trust. It's not about being their best friend. It's not what we're here to do. I treat them like their my own kids.
There are times that my own four don't like me very much, but that's called parenting, and there's some good times and some bad times. I feel that we do things pretty much the same way. I think he's got really tough kids that are going to come and compete, and I truly believe we have tough kids. That's a process. It's not something that a lot of them just come in with. It's something that they learn throughout their time with us.
Q. You've been here before. Your first time at the Final Four, did you think that you really understood how difficult it is to get here in the first place and how hard it is to get back? And kind of will you just talk about how difficult it is to get here.
JEFF WALZ: Yes, I knew -- I know exactly how difficult it is. The one thing -- in '06 at Maryland, when we made it to the Final Four, I got a phone call from a good friend of mine, Lyndon Wiese, who used to be an assistant at Texas Tech, that said, Before you go up, make sure you enjoy it. Enjoy every second of it. Don't sit in your hotel room and watch film. The film's not going to change. You've already done all your preparation. Make sure your kids are prepared. Make sure you know what you're doing, which obviously you're not here if you don't. Practice the way you practice, but enjoy the rest of it.
That's one thing I try to do with our players. I want them to enjoy what's going on around here because I do know how hard it is to get back. I never take it for granted. I don't sit here and think that, hey, we'll be back next year. We'll be back the year after that. You just never know when that opportunity is coming again.
As I've always said, the best team doesn't always win in March. It's the team that's playing the best that night. And then all of a sudden, somebody gets beat. It opens up an easier path possibly to make it somewhere. So we are enjoying every second of this. I mean, I want our players to soak it all in. We're going to do all the things tonight with the kids to make sure they get a chance to experience it. I've told my staff to go out. Once we're prepared, go out with your friends. Go out. I'm taking my wife out. We're going to enjoy it.
So to me, that's what it's all about. You know, it's our third time in 11 years, which 11 years ago, when I got hired here, the goal was we want to try to get to a Sweet 16. It's a program that had never been to a Sweet 16, and that was kind of like, hey, we'd like to make consistent appearances in the Sweet 16. And now we've gone to three Final Fours. I don't think anybody ever thought that that was possible. And we're going to enjoy it. We're going to soak it in. And then tomorrow night, we're going to come out to play. I can promise you that.
But I've talked to my SID. I want Nick to figure out in 11 years how many teams have made it to the Final Four? UConn's been all 11. So there's one team that's gone 11 straight. How many actual programs have made it to the Final Four in 11 years? Because it's not a great number. So it's definitely a difficult task to do.
Q. I can't tell you how many times over the past two seasons post-game press conferences a coach has said we just didn't have an answer for McCowan. How do you deal with that? How do you approach that?
JEFF WALZ: Well, it's one of those things where it just is what it is. I was fortunate enough to coach Teaira at the UA team when she was a part of that a few years back. Just a wonderful person. Just a big heart. And then when you get her out on the floor, she's a competitor. She competes. So it's not a matter of we don't have an answer for her.
At the same time, we've got some pretty good players that they're going to have to adjust to. So it's a matter of we've got to try to go with our strengths. We know what they're going to do, and that's go to their strengths, and we've got to figure out a way to possibly slow them down the best we can.
You aren't going to stop anybody. At this time of year with the teams that are playing, everybody's really good. You aren't going to stop anyone. It's just a matter of can you slow somebody up in order to get the advantage? I've said it all postseason, seeding doesn't matter. It's all about momentum. And it's momentum during the game, not the momentum you have going into the game. But once that game starts, when you get on a 6-0 run, can you turn that 6-0 run into a 12-0 run?
You go back, and you look at our four games coming up to this, there have been stretches in games where we've gone on a 14-2, a 16-2 run, and it's what creates the separation. It's what takes a four-point game, and all of a sudden, it's an 18-point game, and now it's an uphill climb.
So we've got to make sure we take advantage of the momentum when we get it, and then when they're on a little bit of a run, we've got to figure out a way to stop it.
Q. Jeff, some of the Mississippi State players earlier said they feel like they're in an advantage because they played in a Final Four last year. How do you think your girls will handle tomorrow night's stage, and how has their approach been so far?
JEFF WALZ: The approach has been great. The thing about it, it's going to be a great environment, and we're fortunate enough for our home games also that we have a great fan base. So I don't think our kids are going to be surprised or a little in shock of the crowd tomorrow night.
We had a great turnout at Lexington for our regional semifinal and final game. And then when that game gets going, they don't know what game you're playing. They don't know if it's the first game, the last game, or whatever. When the ball starts going, as a player, you are just playing. You aren't thinking, man, this is the Final Four.
So I'm not worried about that at all. I think our kids are loose. I think they're excited and know it's going to be a great challenge.
Q. Two-part question for you. First, how was it riding in the sidecar last night of the police escort?
JEFF WALZ: It was absolutely great. That's one thing, I kind of was joking with them when we came to practice yesterday and said, hey, I'd like to sit in that on the way back. Roll out of practice, and he's got the jacket, helmet, and the gloves. I'm in. Yeah, I'd like to actually do it tomorrow on the way to the game.
Q. The second question, you kind of alluded to it or discussed a little bit, but what you've done in 11 years at the school getting three Final Fours, I don't know how many other coaches have done that in their first 11 years at a program. I don't know how many McDonald's All-Americans you've had, but I'm guessing not a roster-ful of them. What can other coaches take from you to build their programs in the same way, where in 11 years you're a three-time Final Four and two-time championship playing program?
JEFF WALZ: You know, we were fortunate. I say this all the time. When I took the job at Louisville, I took it over, and it was a good program. It was solid. Tom Collen had done a really nice job. Tom didn't get fired at Louisville. Tom took the Arkansas job. So I had the opportunity to inherit Angel McCoughtry. Now, we also worked really hard at changing the culture, changing expectations, changing what they have to do.
Because I'll never forget, in my interview, the players had the opportunity to talk to me and ask me questions, and Angel asked me, What are you going to do to get us to a Sweet 16?
I said, Well, Angel, I'm not playing. I can't play for you. What are you going to do? And she kind of looked at me, and I said, It's about building a team. You guys have known that Coach Colin took the job at Arkansas a week ago, right?
She's like, Yeah.
I go, Which one of you have called the freshmen that have just signed, so they're seniors in high school, to tell them everything is going to be okay? Not one returning player had reached out to the incoming freshmen because they just didn't think about it. They didn't realize it. And I'm like, that's your problem. You've got each other right here, so you're comfortable with knowing, hey, we're going to find a coach. We're going to be good. But you've got incoming freshmen that signed -- and I know everybody says you sign with the school. No, you sign because you build a relationship with the coach at that school. The coach leaves, and now they were fractured some, the freshmen. They didn't know what to expect.
And that next day, on my second day of the interview, Patrika Barlow comes running up to me, and she says, Coach, I called all of them, and they're so thankful, and they're excited.
And that's kind of how things started with us, was getting the players to realize it's their team. It's not the coaches. We do our jobs at giving them guidance, putting in game plans, but they have to be the ones that invest in it.
And it started on that day, and we have just continued to build and build and build. And it's been a remarkable 11 years with some wonderful players that have bought in to us and believed in what we could do. And I've said, I mean, we're sitting here right now with Myisha Hines-Allen as our only senior, and we can say as a staff that everybody that's completed four years with us in 11 years has had the opportunity to play in a Final Four. We're proud of that and looking forward to a great weekend.
Q. Jeff, if my math is correct, there have been 15 teams in the last 11 years that have made the Final Four. But my question is after what you did with Marie Gulich last week, does any of that apply here? Obviously, size is similar, but what about skill?
JEFF WALZ: They're both really talented. We're going to have -- Teaira is probably stronger as a low post player. Marie, I love the finesse of her game. She could post up at times. She had a nice little step back. So their skill set was a little bit different. We're going to have to do everything we can, it's no secret, to try to get Teaira as far away from the basket as we can, make her score over us, but then you've got to turn and box her out.
What she does so well is she might miss it, but then everybody else takes a step to the basket. Well, she takes a step with you, and she just rebounds the ball over you. It's not a foul. She's just taller and stronger, and she rebounds it and puts it back up and in. We've got to limit the number of offensive rebounds and second-chance points that she's able to get.
Q. Hello, Coach. You talked about how similar these two teams are going in. You've spoken about how you and the players are trying to stay loose, this is just another game, but the stakes are different. So when it comes down to that game, if things are maybe a little too loose or too tight, what aspects of the culture that you've been able to build are you and your coaching staff going to really lean on to get the team focused and stay on track with the game plan?
JEFF WALZ: That's the one thing, I'll tell you. We're enjoying it now. The kids are enjoying this. But I can promise you, like when we just had our practice, our kids are focused and dialled in.
Tonight I want them to have fun. I want them to enjoy it. I don't need them to be sitting in the room all stressed trying to figure out, what are we going to do?
We know what to do. We're 38 games into the season. As I say, we're good at what we're good at, and we're bad at what we're bad at. It's not going to change now. So we just need to keep doing what we do.
Tomorrow's game, they're going to come out and have a good warmup, and we're going to approach it like we have for the last 38 ball games. The stakes are the same as they were in Round 1. If you lose, you're finished. So the stakes aren't any different, and that's one thing that I've talked to our players about. Every game in the NCAA Tournament has the same ramifications. You lose, you're finished.
And now it's the same thing. It's just now you're down to four teams. It's an unbelievable accomplishment. I'm really proud of these young women.
Q. There are four teams here that want to play for a National Championship. Would you rather be in a Final Four in which UConn has won a couple in a row or in a Final Four in which UConn didn't win last year?
JEFF WALZ: You know what, the great thing about it is when the draw comes out, everybody's like, You want to be opposite UConn. That's a lie. That's the worst thing you could ever have happen. How many National Championship games have they lost? You know the answer? Zero. When they lose is in the semis. So you want to play them in the semis because he can't coach that game very well (laughter). You know, he gets tight. He gets nervous, and he can't perform. Then finally in the championship game, he lets Chris do it, and he's 11-0. He gets all the credit, though.
So you want to be on the same side of the bracket. This stuff of being on the opposite side is bad business.
I got a good question. That was a great question. Thank you, everybody.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports