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March 21, 2019

Susie Gardner

Amanda Thompson

KeKe Calloway

Iowa City, Iowa

SUSIE GARDNER: First of all, we're really excited about being here in Iowa City. I am very appreciative of the history of Iowa women's basketball with Dr. Christine Grant and everything she's done in the past, and of course when Coach Stringer was here, the success that she had, and now what Coach Bluder is doing. So we're not removed from understanding the history and love of women's basketball in the state of Iowa.

You probably don't know a whole lot about Mercer University. We're a private school, about an hour and 15 minutes south of Atlanta. We're in the Southern Conference, which is a conference that we are proud to represent in the NCAA Tournament. It's got great coaches in that league that we think have prepared us for this moment. These two players are two of five seniors that had the winningest record in the history of our program. A unique situation: Amanda was Southern Conference player the year voted by the coaches, and KeKe was Southern Conference Player of the Year voted by the media. So you don't often have co-MVPs on the same team.

Q. KeKe, you guys gave Georgia a really good run last year in the tournament. How much confidence did that give you that you can play with the big schools on the big stage?
KEKE CALLOWAY: You know, last year that was a hard-fought battle between Georgia. We play them every year, so we -- coming into the game, we just tried to be confident that we could play with anyone in the nation, and we prepared well, and we just tried to come out and fight regardless of the outcome.

Q. This is for both players to comment on: When you have a long winning streak like you guys are on, what is the positive in that, and are there any negatives to that?
AMANDA THOMPSON: I don't think we really think about the winning streak. We really take it one day at a time. I didn't even realize until last week -- I hadn't even thought about the fact that we were on a winning streak. We just don't want to talk about that.

So I think it's more one game at a time. We're focused on Iowa and what our coaches are telling us about that game.

KEKE CALLOWAY: Yeah, just to second what Amanda said, we're just taking it one day at a time, and when we come out and compete, just take what the coaches give us at practice and try to put it all together when we come out and play. And we've fortunate enough to come out on the winning end of however many games we've won.

SUSIE GARDNER: 17. (Laughter).

Q. For either of the players, just your thoughts about what you see when you see Megan Gustafson on film?
AMANDA THOMPSON: Obviously she's a great player. Top rated in the country. So we've just excited about our scout and our coaches' ability to create a game plan, and then give that to us, and we're just going to take that and play our hardest.

KEKE CALLOWAY: Yeah, obviously she's a great player. In watching the film, she's very skilled. We're just focusing on just taking the game plan and the scout from the coaches, and we're just going to come out and compete hard and give her our best shot.

SUSIE GARDNER: Sounds like the game plan is very important, doesn't it, from these guys. (Laughter).

Q. I'll ask the same thing to you: Just your thoughts about Megan Gustafson and the problems she might present.
SUSIE GARDNER: Well, you know, we don't get the Big Ten Network in Georgia, so honestly, the only knowledge that I had of her was reading on ESPN that she got Player of the Year. This was before obviously we drew them in the tournament. So we don't get to watch a lot of Big Ten games at all just because they don't come on TV.

But then when we drew her, of course I knew this was going to be one of our biggest dilemmas in playing Iowa. So we obviously did a lot of research on her and watched a lot of film. First of all, you look at her stats, and you think, man, these stats cannot be real. It's like when I'm watching film and she misses it's almost like a shock that she's going to miss the shot. Not only is she a great scorer, she's an exceptional passer, and that stood out to me because a lot of times post players aren't the best passers on a lot of teams that we compete against, and obviously she's used to being double, triple-teamed, and her ability to just get the assist and find the open player is remarkable.

And on top of that, she runs the floor really, really well and plays a ton of minutes. She is just an incredible player that I wish I was able to watch more this year just as a fan versus as an opponent, but she's a special, special talent for sure.

Q. Have you done anything special in practice to try to prepare your team for her and how you might stop her?
SUSIE GARDNER: What do you think?

You know, I've watched a lot of different teams, and we do, we scout really hard. Those weren't just words that we told them to say. We really take a lot of pride in our scouts of our opponents, and so I've watched a lot of film. Obviously our coaches watched the night that we learned we were playing you guys. And you watch other people's philosophies, whether it's an in-conference team or perhaps an out-of-conference team, and everyone does something different.

Most of it doesn't work. I mean, part of it works, but if you keep her from catching the ball, someone else is open, and they've got really, really good shooters from the outside. They've got drivers, they've got all the ingredients of a great team. So certainly we have a game plan, but this is the beauty of playing this game tomorrow is for us to see if what we think may work -- I told my players, listen, she averages 28. I mean, who averages 28? So that means there's been times that she's had more than 28. So I'm trying to tell my post players, listen, she's going to score, don't get your feelings hurt. That's basically been the message to my post players is listen, "It's not on y'all." I'm trying to put the blame on everyone else besides my players that are going to be defending her. That's kind of my philosophy strategically or emotionally, I don't know which one it is.

I mean, I'm very excited and curious to see what we're going to try to do, if it kind of comes close, you know? That's the fun of playing the game.

Q. Do you talk with your players at all about being here in Iowa? Obviously Iowa being in Iowa City and then Drake being in Iowa and Mizzou only being three hours away, is the fan base going to be -- have you talked about that with your players?
SUSIE GARDNER: No, we haven't. We didn't talk about that. I'll tell you, that's an interesting question which I'm going to answer it maybe not the way you wanted me to, but we have great following. Our fans are awesome. We have a great following at Mercer. When we go to Asheville to the SoCon Tournament, in the women's side we have the largest crowd. We went to Georgia last year, and I promise you, it was half and half, Mercer and Georgia fans. Our fans were so excited to drive over to Athens and support our team, and I will say that our fans on Selection Monday were probably the most disappointed, not because of who we played but where we were going, because it is a 13-hour drive, and it's a very expensive, quick turnaround if you're going to fly.

We're not talking about now we're the team that's far away. Now, would it be nice for me to recruit the Drake fans and the Missouri fans and say, hey, help us out. I know y'all rather play Mercer and Iowa. So cheer for us because we get a lot of energy. But it is what it is.

So we don't talk about it with our players. I know we've got some disappointed fans, though, that wish they could be there. We do have some watch parties going on in Macon at some of the restaurants because we do have a great following. We're very, very fortunate to have that support at home.

Q. Can you tell us about your team? I know you have four senior starters and players who have logged a lot of minutes in a lot of big games. What are the strengths of your team?
SUSIE GARDNER: Well, one is those seniors, when they were freshmen, we were picked to finish fifth out of eight in our conference, and one thing that's a strength is that's the first year we won the regular season Southern Conference championship and they've won four in a row, so a strength -- I know that's not what you're looking for, but one strength is they've been there, and their confidence, and they've won. They know how to win. We've won a lot of close games this year. If you looked at our scores, a lot of them came down to the end, but we have -- you look at Iowa, what their strengths are. We have players that can score. KeKe can score. But all five of our starters can score.

We also feel like we're pretty good defensively. We worked very hard on that. I would say that our experience has played a key role in what we've accomplished this year because we were very, very, very good last year, lost some key players, key starters off of last year's team, and so I think the fact that these seniors that were juniors on last year's team have been able to continue what we've done in our conference, and it's hard. Y'all know. It doesn't matter what conference you're in. It's hard to go undefeated two years in a row through the conference and also in the tournament.

So what they've done has been pretty impressive.

Q. I think you're fifth in the nation in fewest turnovers given up. Is that experience, or what's the reason for that?
SUSIE GARDNER: That is not what I expected because last year one of my assistant coaches, Sydni Means, was my point guard last year, and I actually hired her right out of college. We led the country or she led the country last year in that category, and I thought when we lost Sydni, I had told myself, okay, prepare for turnovers -- the ball to just be pinging everywhere.

So that is not something that we really -- I didn't have any idea that we were going to be that good at not turning the ball over this year. And maybe it's just because I get mad in practice when we turn it over and I make it a big deal, but maybe it's just the culture that has been cultivated because of our success with Sydni last year, and maybe it's just, oh, we don't want to turn the ball over.

But we don't really do anything different, maybe because our guards shoot it before they turn it over, who knows. But yeah, I looked at that stat this morning before I came over here so I'd be educated with y'all's questions, but that is not something we anticipated this year at all. At all. Pleased about it but didn't expect it.

Q. A 15 has never beaten a 2 in the women's tournament. I think between the 2s and the 1s they're like 231-1 or something like that in the first round. Has that been mentioned to the kids and just the opportunity that might be out there to do something that's never been done?
SUSIE GARDNER: You know, I know y'all are disappointed that we don't talk about all this stuff behind the scenes, but we really don't. We did not talk about the streak. My assistant coaches are getting on my last nerves a little bit about all this stuff about 2 and 15. They've mentioned it, but it's not something that we're going to talk to our players about. Maybe I'm naïve or maybe I'm just different, but we just try to keep it like nice and simple about who our opponent is and not try to do all the peripheral stuff that's involved.

Now, certainly if we were able to do it, we would certainly mention it at that point.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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