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March 21, 2019

Karl Smesko

Keri Jewett-Giles

Nasrin Ulel

Destiny Washington

Coral Gables, Florida

THE MODERATOR: Up last but not least today is FGCU.

We will start with an opening statement from Coach Smesko.

KARL SMESKO: We're happy to be here. We got a great challenge ahead of us playing a great team in the University of Miami. We're excited for the opportunity and hopefully we'll make the most of it.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Smesko.

Q. The other three teams here, their conference tournaments all ended between 11 and 14 days ago. You guys typically go into the day before selection Monday. Have you found that's an advantage in keeping your team in a rhythm?
KARL SMESKO: We've done it both ways. I know the first time we went to the NCAA tournament, we had a much longer layoff.

I like it like this. There's nothing to test you for big games like a big game. You wouldn't want to do it the day before. Not to have more than a week layoff I think is ideal. I like the way we do it in our conference.

Q. The nine kids you played here two years ago, only one will play tomorrow. Is the way that game ended still a rallying cry for this team at all? Are they familiar? Is it ancient history?
KARL SMESKO: There weren't many of the players that were really involved in that, so we have a couple people that are familiar with the ending, coming up just short, being really disappointed.

For most of our team, for a lot of our team, this is their first time in the NCAA tournament, for a lot of our transfer players. They're just excited to be a part of it. Hopefully they'll be prepared and have a great showing.

I don't think anything that happened two years ago is going to have any impact tomorrow.

Q. It's a different year in women's basketball. Many times for the first round of the tournament, who is going to lose to UConn at the end. This year there's 10 or more teams that have a fair chance of winning. How much has women's basketball needed that parity at the top?
KARL SMESKO: I definitely think it's helpful. I'm a big fan of UConn. They've been outstanding. They've set the bar at the highest level. But it makes for more drama when there's more teams that have a realistic chance of winning the whole thing.

This year there's so many teams that have beat the best teams in the country. You look at Miami, they have an excellent team. They also beat two No. 1 seeds. They're capable of making a deep run.

As you said, this year, it's more wide open than it's been. I can't remember the last time it's been this wide open, where you wouldn't have a really heavy favorite going into the tournament. I think it's good for women's basketball.

I think this will be a great tournament. The last two years the Final Fours have been remarkable, how well they were played, how exciting the games were. I'm hoping that women's basketball just keeps building and more fans appreciate the quality of the product. I'm expecting another great tournament this year.

Q. So many new faces this year. What was the point in the year where you started feeling comfortable they were getting the system, what it takes for you to compete?
KARL SMESKO: It was probably after Christmas. I saw them start to improve on the defensive end where we were struggling earlier in the year. By the time we got to January, we looked like we were playing FGCU basketball at that time. It took a semester to get everybody kind of understanding their roles, how they can be productive within the system, what we're looking for, what we're not.

I think we've played pretty well since January.

Q. 11-3 away from Fort Myers this year. When you start to go about designing a schedule, challenging yourself on the road, how much of that mentality is designed to set you up to be successful beginning tomorrow?
KARL SMESKO: To be honest, I'd like to take credit for it, but it's usually not by design. We usually play the teams that agree to play us, then try to fit it in a schedule. I could have great plans, It would be great if we play these teams, develop this. The truth is, you have to find other teams that will agree to play you.

Typically in our non-conference schedule the teams that will agree to play us are often really good, really good mid-majors who can't find a game, or a BCS program that feels like this will be a great RPI game for us, we still feel like we can win. That's kind of how the schedule comes together.

I do think the fact each year we play in a major tournament, this year in Hawaii we had to play Stanford, that gets our kids accustomed to playing the big BCS teams so we're not surprised once we get on the floor against Miami.

Q. Eagles this year have done a great job of starting fast. Entering the fourth quarter, you're usually in a good position. How much has that been a point of emphasis? How will that play a role over the next couple days?
KARL SMESKO: Last time we were here, we started really slow. We didn't shoot the ball well in the first half. I just think getting off to a good start helps everybody's confidence and helps everybody ease into the game a lot better than if it looks like you're struggling early.

You can always keep fighting and get back in the game, but the sooner everybody starts to get adjusted to the speed, gets accustomed to the physicality of the game, they're able to be successful, I think the better off you are.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach Smesko.

KARL SMESKO: Thank you.

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by FGCU student-athletes. Questions, please.

Q. Destiny, I don't think it was a real big surprise when the brackets came out that you were coming here. After Sunday, were you really expecting this was where you were going to be?
DESTINY WASHINGTON: We weren't really thinking about it at that point. We were just worried about winning the game, enjoying each other's company. After that, we pretty much knew where we were going to go.

Q. What have the last four days been like getting ready for this, a couple of really talented bigs?
DESTINY WASHINGTON: It's just been making sure we were locked in and focused. We have a really big emphasis on not letting them into the post. As long as we focus on what we're supposed to do, I think we'll be fine.

Q. Keri, last year's post-season success, this program really has raised the bar, how much did last year's win, upsetting Missouri, this team knows what it takes to win in the post-season, how much can you build off that?
KERI JEWETT-GIBBS: It just gives us a lot of confidence and belief that anything is possible. No matter the seed, no matter what team it is, just because it's a name, anybody is beatable in March.

Q. Nasrin, there are only two players on the team who averaged double-digits, but several with more than six points per game. Discuss the balance of the team, how important you think that is for this team.
NASRIN ULEL: I think the greatest thing about our team is that on any given day, anyone can have a really good game. We're really good about sharing the ball. If somebody is having a really good offensive game, we're willing to give them the ball. It's not really like we only have two people that are scoring double-digits, but everyone has had big games for us. Our bench is very good for us.

It's just fun knowing that anyone can just play within our system and do well.

Q. Smesko's system is what it is, unusual. What is it like feeling at this point in the year you finally might have it close to mastered? How much better off is this team when it starts to click?
NASRIN ULEL: I don't think we really have it mastered yet (laughter). We try our best to play, just take the shots that we know are really efficient and are good for our team. We emphasize taking really good shots.

We want the other team to take the tough shots, tough twos, force them to do things that are low, like returns. We try to let them take bad shots, just take what we do, threes and layups. We win doing that many years, so...

Q. Keri, the team was 11-3 away from Fort Myers this year. The team has won on the road, beaten good teams away from home. How much confidence does that give the team?
KERI JEWETT-GIBBS: We have a lot of confidence going in just being able to overcome anything we've been through, especially on the road. A lot of people think it's hard to win on the road. Coach gives us a game plan and we just execute it. We have a lot of faith.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for joining us.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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