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April 2, 2019

Kelly Graves

Tampa, Florida

RICK NIXON: Good morning or good afternoon. Welcome to today's women's Final Four head coach media teleconference. For the next 30 minutes you'll have the opportunity to visit with the head coach of the Oregon Ducks, Kelly Graves. Oregon is participating in its first ever Women's Final Four in 2019.

Kelly, if you would, start with an opening statement.

KELLY GRAVES: We are definitely thrilled to be participating in the Final Four. The last couple years, we've gotten to the Elite 8. Quite frankly, fell short. The first year against UConn, they destroyed us. We really played no good quarters in that game. We weren't quite ready for that stage. We got a little bit better last year. But in the end weren't good enough to get Notre Dame.

I know one of the focuses this year was to get here to a Final Four. We didn't want to be an Elite 8 program, we wanted to be a Final Four program. I know our players were hungry and really determined to get there. Now that it's here, we're certainly excited.

To be going against really Hall of Fame coaches is a little bit daunting, but at the same time it's exciting. We're looking forward to the opportunity to compete there.

RICK NIXON: We'll take questions for Coach Graves.

Q. Two years ago or when you played UConn, you weren't prepared for the stage. What makes you feel your team is ready for this stage now to be in this Final Four, crashing the party with three teams that have won multiple national championships?
KELLY GRAVES: Well, I don't know if it was Sesame Street or Electric Station, one of those shows where one of the these is not like the other. Obviously we're a little bit different. But those programs and those coaches had to win their first, as well, get to their first Final Four. It's a new experience for us.

We've had a lot of tension thrown on us. We've had some tournament experience. This group has now won 10 NCAA tournament games. I just think it was incremental progress. We finally were able to win that Elite 8 game, kind of break through.

Are we going to be ready? I don't know. That remains to be seen. I think our kids are going to be prepared and we're going to fight, I know that.

Q. About the matchup, clearly people look at UConn and Notre Dame, but you're playing Baylor, the No. 1 overall seed, talk about the daunting challenge of Baylor, what you see of them as you watch them on film.
KELLY GRAVES: Really impressive. We got together as a team yesterday and watched that game. It's a contrast of styles in some ways. They love that high-low game. I know the three-point shot is not a huge part of what they do. It is for us.

It's going to be difficult to defend them because we just haven't played anybody like that this year. I wouldn't say they're old school. When I was at Gonzaga, we used to play high-low basketball, but it was tough for me to get centers of the caliber of Lauren Cox and Kalani Brown. We changed to more of a perimeter-oriented style.

We've got our work cut out for us. They're not just tall, they're skilled. It looks like sometimes they play volleyball with each other. They're just throwing it up and over the opponents. There's no question, we got our work cut out for us.

Q. One of the things when you talk to women's college basketball coaches who have been in multiple Final Fours, they say a lot of times you sort of have to go through the experience to understand all the things that sort of surround the kids and the program, all the commitments that are required during the couple-day stretch. Have you tried to anticipate what the kids will have to do, from family commitments to everything else? That's one of the things that's very hard to simulate?
KELLY GRAVES: Yeah, great question. I guess you don't know till you actually go through it that first time. But I reached out to a couple of my coaching colleagues who had been to the Final Four, including Dana Altman, who was our men's basketball coach, went to the Final Four a couple years ago, his first one. I asked him about things that worked, things that didn't, what to expect, how we can do it better and different, prepare our kids for us. We talked about it as a team.

The reality is, until you go through it, you don't know. Hopefully we'll help them navigate some of this. But again, until we've actually been through it...

I see Kim Mulkey and Geno, Muffet, they had to go through their first time, too. We had to get here at some point.

Q. Was there a point or a game during the season where you said to yourself, We may be good enough to get to Tampa and compete for the national championship?
KELLY GRAVES: Well, I thought two games that really stood out for us. The first Mississippi State game. They had been there, they had been to the championship game two years in a row. We were able to win what was, again, a great, great team at the time back in December.

Then when we went down to Stanford and beat Stanford. Listen, they're the standard by which we're all judged out here in the west. We were able to take it to them the way we did. I thought those were real good barometers as to how good we could be, when we were playing at our best, what we could accomplish.

Obviously we played pretty well during the tournament. I would say those are two of the moments during the year. I would add maybe one more. I thought the semifinal game in the conference tournament, we were really banged up, playing on little or no rest. Listen, I know everybody is banged up a little bit at this juncture. I thought the way we gutted that win out and beat a very good UCLA team, I thought also told me, hey, this team has the championship mettle, the toughness you're going to need to get to a Final Four.

Q. The atmosphere was electric in Portland. How important was it playing there?
KELLY GRAVES: I thought it was huge. We won the game because we executed well and made baskets and defended the way we needed to. But there's no question the crowd helped. There are those moments in the game when you need just a little extra boost of adrenaline perhaps, and they gave it to us.

I thought it was a great showcase for women's basketball. That Mississippi State game, I'm telling you, that's one of the best-played games I've certainly ever been a part of and one of the best tournament games I've seen.

But, yeah, I thought it was great. There were times literally when sound had feel. If you've been in some of those venues, you felt that, you know what I'm talking about. That definitely happened that day.

Q. Especially this time of year is conducive to buzzer-beaters. Do you devote a practice period every now and again, crazy last-second situations that might arise?
KELLY GRAVES: We do. We do. We practice them pretty much every day. Sometimes you have to get on the kids. I'll go, Okay, let's go late game. A lot of it's dry run kind of stuff. They kind of, like, go through the motions sometimes because we do it so much. I keep telling them that there's going to come a time when we're going to need this and have to execute it perfectly.

Yes, I think every coach does.

Q. A lot of attention has been given to Sabrina and Satou. Can you talk a little bit about the contributions of the other players, like Maite?
KELLY GRAVES: That's a great question. Yeah, Satou, Sabrina and Ruthy get a ton of attention. It's well-deserved, no question about it. They've certainly had a great NCAA tournament.

I think with any team, you got to have those unsung stars. Maite is that for us. In many ways she's our most important player. She allows Sabrina to play off the ball a little bit more, kind of do her thing when she does have the ball. Maite is the one that brings the ball up, she's the one that organizes, gets us into our offense. She's obviously made timely shots like she did the other night. I thought her three-pointer late in the game against Mississippi State was really the dagger.

She's calm. She's one of the most quiet superstars you're going to see. Great defender. She's our best defender, awesome feet.

Erin Boley, she's that sniper from the perimeter. She can stretch the defense, allows Ruthy more space inside to work. She allows Sabrina and Satou more driving lanes because she spreads out that defense. She hasn't shot it well in the tournament yet, but we all believe in her and know on any given night she can let it fly.

They've all contributed, had big games. I think we have four different players that have 30-plus games this season, not many teams can say that. Our bench has really given us a lift, especially Oti, she seems to come up in the NCAA tournament. We're certainly more than those three All-Americans.

Q. What is the most impressive thing that you've seen on tape so far about Baylor?
KELLY GRAVES: Well, I think they're more than just the two. Those two are very similar to Ruthy and Sabrina for us. There are other really good parts. I think Chloe Jackson, man, she is terrific. I remember watching her at LSU a few times.

But they're long, they're athletic, they can run a whole bunch of different players at you, change styles if they need to. They shoot it, they're not a prolific three-point shooting team, but a really good shooting team, especially from the midrange.

I think defensively they create a lot. They're so good in transition. I mean, if I keep talking like this, I'm going to psych myself out. There's a reason they're the No. 1 overall seed. They seem to be determined this year, as well. They've added that.

Q. Going into this Baylor game having two games, an analog for a 6'7" player, what does it take for Ruthy to come up again in that matchup, the rest of the front court, what is it going to be like for them, to go against a player like Lauren Cox, who is so big and strong inside?
KELLY GRAVES: It's different. It's different than anything we've seen and had to defend. I think it is a help, though, that we had to go through trying to stop a powerful post player like Teaira. We have some experience and we know it can be done even though I don't know what she ended up with that night, maybe 19 and 15. Not like we held her down.

We have some experience with one. It's the second that is so different. But Ruthy, she is a hard, hard worker. She's a talented player herself. She's strong and determined, but she's also going to need help. You can't stop those players, that inside presence, with just one player. We're not built that way. It's going to have to be a team defense to do it. We're all going to have to be dialed in.

My coaching staff is going to have to come up with a heck of a game plan to make it work. Nobody stopped it yet. That's why they are where they are. Hopefully we're the first team that can figure out that puzzle.

Q. The four teams have 10 losses between them. Maybe people are picturing you as a Cinderella. You lost four games. Is everyone here capable of winning this thing?
KELLY GRAVES: I certainly think so. I think if you get to that point, sure. No doubt about that.

Obviously the Pac-12 is a tough conference. We only lost two games in the league, and both of those were one without Ruthy for the entire game, it came down to the last possession, then one at Oregon State where she missed pretty much the entire game. Even two of our losses were against really good teams that made it to the Sweet 16 and without maybe our most dominant player.

There's no shame in losing on the third day against Stanford in the conference championship. We've had quality losses. Even though we have the most of all the teams here, I think we're certainly capable on any given night of beating anybody. We've proven that. The way we shoot the basketball, we're always in a game. There's no doubt in my mind.

Yeah, we may be the underdog going in, sure. I know our kids believe. We're going to go in and fight. We're going to compete. That's who we are.

Q. Obviously Sabrina has had a fantastic career for you all. What in your mind is the most impressive thing about her?
KELLY GRAVES: Consistency. I mean, that young lady competes every day. She plays to win every drill, every sprint, every shooting contest, every scrimmage. It's just who she is and how she's wired. That's rubbed off on everybody.

It's hard to put your finger sometimes on exactly what makes her so great. That's one of them. The other is the competitive greatness, that drive she has and the will to win.

I saw she was going to have the game she did against Mississippi State. I saw it in her eyes that day. You could look at some of the quotes from the day before. I just saw a twinkle in her eye. That's who she is. That's how she's driven. She's made for moments like that, games like that.

She just has those intangibles that you can't really teach. On top of that she's a highly skilled player. It's more than her playing hard, a lot of people play hard, but she plays smart and has great, great skills. Her vision is as good as any I've coached, and I coached Courtney Vandersloot who holds records in the WNBA and college basketball. I've been fortunate to coach two of the elite point guards in college basketball, and she's one of them.

Q. You saw the twinkle in her eye the day before?
KELLY GRAVES: Yes. The day before and the day of. You can tell. I can tell those games when she's determined to go out and either get a triple-double or whatever. I know that young lady pretty well. She's just wired differently.

Q. Some of the issues we've had, including pretty recently with two ACC teams, of coaches being accused of abusive behavior, where that line is. Coach Auriemma talked about how that's very difficult to determine where the line is, how players sometimes take things differently than coaches mean them, then coaches are afraid of players at some point. From your perspective, how do you feel about that? Have you had to change anything about the way you coach based on generational differences?
KELLY GRAVES: Yeah, I have. I'm a demanding coach still. For the most part I would consider myself a player's coach. Yeah, especially as a male coach, you have to approach things a little bit differently.

Geno is a heck of a lot smarter and far more eloquent than I am. I would agree with most of what he says.

I don't know, honestly, about the cases you're talking about. I've seen the little ticker down below on SportsCenter stuff, but I don't know the particulars so I can't really comment fully.

But, yeah, I think as a male, it's not just a gender thing, but you're right, players can misconstrue what you say. They read into tone maybe more than they should. I know that I have always taken measures to, any time I talk with a player about their role or about things they could do better to help the team, I try to do it in front of the rest of the team. I always, always talk with a player, if it's a personal issue or anything like that, with another assistant in the office with me.

My offices have windows. My doors are always open. I just long ago figured out you have to take some safeguards about all that kind of stuff because you just never know. You almost always have a female coach in with me when I talk to a player.

I don't know if that answers what you were looking for. I think you have to adapt a little bit to this generation. They are different. They are wired differently. They think differently. I think the best coaches figure out how they can communicate differently with their players as they change.

Q. From a strategic perspective of playing Baylor, this is a team that doesn't shoot the three much, although they can, what is it like when you're going against a team that you kind of know that is not generally how they beat anybody, how you approach that defensively?
KELLY GRAVES: I don't know. This is a very unique experience for us, unique scout. We haven't had two players like this. We've defended one really, really good post player. But to have two that are equally skilled and can play inside and outside, it's going to be unique.

I don't know. We're going to try to figure that out. Like I said, Stanford is the only one that figured out that puzzle this year. We're hoping to be the second.

I can rely a little bit on the experiences as a Gonzaga coach because I used to play high-low. I believed in it, loved it, we were good at it. A young guard named Courtney Vandersloot came around and I stayed with that style of spreading people out.

I've looked at some of my old notes. I always keep a log of how people tried to play us when we played high-low basketball. We'll see if that works. It didn't work all the time for our opponents when we played at Gonzaga in the WCC. Hopefully we can figure out how to stop Baylor.

Q. When you're facing offensively and kind of try to neutralize their shot-blocking ability, do you hope the perimeter shot can work to your advantage?
KELLY GRAVES: Well, yeah, I hope so. The other side of that is if they do shoot perimeter shots, you've got to go block out not just those two, but they have other players that can crash the boards pretty hard. I've played against teams that sometimes the first offense is the offensive rebound. They can do a little bit of everything. That's, again, what makes them so tough.

We're trying to figure this out. We've only had one day, not even a full day, to scout them and to really dive into what they do. I've got an amazing staff, as you well know. They've come up with pretty good game plans all year long. I anticipate they're going to do the same thing.

We'll have our kids ready and have them scouted as well as we possibly can.

Q. Stanford and their strategy to push the pace on Ruthy, Mississippi State didn't do that with McCowan, but it looks like Baylor could do that with Kalani Brown. What do you try to do with Ruthy this week to get her prepared for a team that might try to do that again?
KELLY GRAVES: I think that strategy by Stanford was as much three games in three days as it was anything else. I think Ruthy runs the floor well. That's never been an issue for us. You might want to make her run, fine, she can run with any center in the country.

The strategy for Stanford that night was that's her third game. She had just come off an injury. They knew they were going to be able to run her. That might be a strategy they try to employ. I think we've done a good job in post-season of sending two players back most of the time against transition teams. I think we're going to be fine in that regard. Ruthy is as strong as she's been in a month. She'll be ready to go.

Lauren and Kalani can run the floor, no questions for players their size. It's not that their jets. They're certainly capable of pushing tempo.

Q. Sabrina, with a minute to go, makes the shot. You were unbelievably composed in what was probably one of the bigger moments in a basketball game in your career. How did you stay that composed in that moment?
KELLY GRAVES: You saw that little wristband I've been wearing. I have the word on there 'calmness'. I told the team that calmness comes from trusting your team. I trusted and knew that that's who Sabrina is. She's going to make those kind of baskets.

Yeah, I think there was still a lot of game to be played. That was a six-point game about a buck 20. No reason to get too high at that moment. Anyway, yeah. I thought the dagger was Maite's 30 seconds later, three-point she hit.

Q. One of Baylor's X factors is DiDi Richards. What is your goal to keep her off the boards?
KELLY GRAVES: We've seen enough tape to realize how good she is. I think that's a mistake anybody could make when they watch Baylor, is thinking, We have to stop the high-low game. You do, but there's a lot of other players on that team that can play. Richards is certainly one of them. Athletic fluidly. We have a player similar to her in Satou. It will be a nice matchup if those two are matched up.

But, yeah, sometimes a good part of their offense is that offensive rebound. We're going to have to really, really focus on blocking out, no question, going to get the ball, because they're certainly good at it.

RICK NIXON: Thank you so much, Coach Graves. We appreciate it. Safe travels. Look forward to seeing you here in Tampa.

KELLY GRAVES: Awesome. I appreciate the time.

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