March 20, 2022
Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Postgame Media Conference
Louisville 68, Gonzaga 59
Q. Emily, Sweet 16, first time past the first weekend for you. What's that mean to you? And Kianna and Hailey, is there anything Emily does at this point that is surprising?
EMILY ENGSTLER: Yeah, I'm really excited to go to the Sweet 16. It's going to be a lot of fun, and I think we really deserve to be there.
I think we just need to stay collected and be consistent, and we'll see ourselves at a Final Four real soon.
KIANNA SMITH: Yeah, for me, Emily amazes me every day. I think her basketball IQ and her knack for the game is just ridiculous. It's fun to play with her. I'm glad we have her on our team now.
HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, it surprises me when she shoots a regular lay-up because she always does extra stuff, and has to spin and make everyone look bad and score. She makes me a little nervous, but that's what makes her so much fun to watch. She truly is a ticket seller.
Q. Hailey, in that third quarter I think you dropped eight straight points. How would you describe that quarter and what had you going offensively?
HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, the way their scout or defensive scheme, they made it pretty hard for me to get looks and get touches on the ball in the first half. Kianna and Em and O scored in the first half for us. They took their opportunities, so in the second half they kind of switched the focus to key and made it harder for her so I had more space, and I took advantage of it, and yeah, the players that had the opportunity took it this game, and it worked in our favor.
Q. Hailey, after one of your three-pointers in the second half, you did a little pirouette as if to punctuate the shot. You're a fairly expressive player on the floor. Was this a little more emotional than normal?
HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, I mean, I'm not much of a dancer, so I'm not sure I did a pirouette. But I'm very passionate about basketball and I really love to play, and this is the tournament that you live more.
I care about my teammates a lot, and so I want to win. If I do that by saying "and-one" too much, everyone knows that about me, they make fun of me, I always scream "and-one" even if it's an uncontested lay-up. It's just how I am, and I'm very passionate and that's how I'm going to continue to play.
Q. Iowa lost as a 2 seed earlier, Baylor was losing while you guys were playing. Do you guys pay attention to that? Is that any sort of look out, we've got to focus?
EMILY ENGSTLER: I mean, we were playing, so I guess now I know, but yeah, teams get upset all the time. So I think that hearing that makes me think we just need to focus on ourselves and understand that it's March, anything can happen. I see us going to a championship, but at the same time you've got to make sure you don't make, two, three, four, five mistakes. That's what we're trying to do, we're trying to limit our turnovers, keep playing really high intensity defense, staying aggressive and composed.
KIANNA SMITH: Yeah, I mean, we had our upset already. Obviously everyone knows that. Our focus was just on our game and finishing off four quarters.
HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, I mean, I think I said it the first day, but we're focused on us, and obviously we know about those games now, but you can't look at what other people are doing and get ahead of yourself and think of the next game because everyone is playing to win. Gonzaga played to win today, so if we would have overlooked them, we probably would be in the same place as Iowa right now.
Yeah, we're focusing on us, and after the game we'll look at our next opponent, but we're taking it one game at a time.
Q. Emily, you made a foul late in the game that seemed to upset you and then you made a spin move lay-up, Jeff Walz talked to you during a time-out at some length. Can you share any of that with us? And then the second question is Hailey has a lot of fun at your expense; I wonder if you'd like to retaliate.
HAILEY VAN LITH: Take a shot, babe.
EMILY ENGSTLER: Today is not the day to retaliate. I didn't make enough right-hand lay-ups to have an argument against Hailey, so I'll leave her alone for this press conference.
It was the kind of game where we were getting the crowd involved, and I think that the adrenaline was pumping. We were just talking about staying calm and composed and understanding that he has my back and that it's really loud in there, that it's hard to hear but that he's fighting for us. I think that's good to hear out of his mouth sometimes, and it's good to have that confidence on my shoulder that he's there.
We were just talking about that, just to stay composed. We were in the fourth quarter, things can spin around in the fourth quarter very quickly, and we know that. I think this was really -- really showed that we don't always lose in the fourth quarter, so don't underestimate us. We're really good at coming back from losses, and I think it's our time to national a National Championship. I'm really excited to be a part of this program.
Q. Kianna and Hailey, the last time you lost at home was February of last year to NC State. What's it mean to you guys to finish this year undefeated at home and in front of a crowd like that tonight?
KIANNA SMITH: I mean, it's a little bit emotional for me just because it's my last one. I love playing in the M Center. Our fans are insane. Yeah, I loved it.
HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, obviously we got the best fan base in the country and they go hard for us, man. Sometimes they get us out of slumps. They cheer so loud that we feel like we're doing well when we just went 0 for 5 from the field. They're amazing, and I can't wait to play in front of them next year again.
But we owe them a good fight in this tournament for how much they do for us, so we're going to play for them.
Q. Emily, Tim mentioned that lay-up you had on the break. I think you caught it off one bounce and went into a spin move.
EMILY ENGSTLER: A hundred percent travel. No questions asked. I think he thought I was still in the air, but in no form did I jump. Like I don't even know how I made it.
Q. Did you plan on doing that?
EMILY ENGSTLER: I told myself to put the ball on the floor and then spin, but it just happened so fast. I don't know.
HAILEY VAN LITH: It's because I passed it to her. She had to do some extra -- she had to scare me for my assist.
EMILY ENGSTLER: I can't make open lay-ups, so maybe if I spin three times in the air and throw it up it'll fall, and that's exactly what happened. I said a quick prayer. But I definitely traveled. It happens. Refs miss things.
Q. Hailey and Emily, with the quick turnaround and scouting report, they were known for disrupting teams but yet you all only committed eight turnovers against them. Where was the focus there against the kind of defense that they play?
HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, you know, for any team in this tournament, we have really focused on for us personally get shots, not turnovers, because when we get shots, we make shots. We're a very skilled offensive team, and as long as we make sure we get shots and not turnovers that turn into lay-ups, we have a really good chance at winning the ball game. We're going to continue to make that emphasis going into the next game.
EMILY ENGSTLER: Yeah.
Q. For all the players, you guys typically get off to fast starts. You had a fast start here tonight. But Gonzaga responded with that 12-0 run to kind of reset the game. What did you all see from them to get back into this, and how did you all adjust to their adjustment?
EMILY ENGSTLER: Yeah, Gonzaga was. They're a good basketball team. They played tough. They have some size. I think that they have some good shooters, and I think when they went on their run, we never let them catch a lead that was too far ahead of us, and we huddled up and just told each other to stay together.
It's been like our X factor right now in this postseason. We just keep continuing to tell each other stay together and keep our heads held high. I mean, that's going to be who wins, seriously. At this point, yeah, you need skill, but it's really about how much heart you have.
I think we just pulled this one out because of that. I mean, we have the home-court advantage, which is a big help. Our fan base is amazing.
But yeah, they're a really good team. I give them a lot of props. They wore me out.
KIANNA SMITH: Yeah, even though we got up big it's the NCAA Tournament so they weren't going to go out without a fight and we knew they were going to go on a run and it was just about managing that and handling it and getting multiple stops in a row.
Q. Hailey, we've talked to you before about the big game and the big moment. Can you explain what it is or what gets into your mind when you're in that situation like you were there in the third quarter? It kind of looks like it's in your eyes and you're just kind of focused.
HAILEY VAN LITH: I mean, yeah, I live for this moment, and I love it and I embrace it. My teammates do, too. I feel like we're a team that if it's a close game, we have that clutch gene in us, and we can get a bucket.
Yeah, I love the pressure, like it's an adrenaline rush for me, and my teammates think it's funny and they think I'm crazy, but I just love it. My dad, obviously you guys know about him, he's like that, so I got that from him.
But it's what makes basketball fun and special, and that's why everyone knows about great moments in history with plays like that.
EMILY ENGSTLER: Crazy people win championships.
HAILEY VAN LITH: Crazy people win championships. Fact. Thank you. Even though she called me crazy, it's okay, I'll be crazy and win. That's okay.
JEFF WALZ: First, just want to say congratulations to Lisa, Gonzaga, their entire program. What a first-class group. It's something we've tried to do here ever since we've hosted is tried to get the three other staffs together on that Thursday night before the game starts on Friday, and it was great because all three staffs, we all got together for a soda.
You know, it's nice when you can sit down and still get to know each other. I was fortunate to work with Lisa before out at USA Basketball, but Colleen from Albany I did not know, Amy of course was at Nebraska. I think it's important for our game, and it was really a great night.
Then to be able to come out here and compete against them, it's just -- they're a wonderful program. She's done an amazing job. Great players. They play hard. They have a plan; you can tell. I was just really, really impressed. I knew coming into the night that it was going to be a tough game, and it's exactly what I was thought it was going to be.
You know, the way we started, it looked good, but I knew that wasn't going to be the case. We have to learn to just try to keep hitting singles instead of trying to hit home runs and triples sometimes. We got it up to 14-0 and then we started to take some shots that if they go in, it's the haymaker, but unfortunately when they don't, now you let them claw back into it, and that's exactly what took place.
But just really proud of how we came out in the third quarter and then competed in the fourth, as well.
Q. Going back to that start, how important was it to set the tone and play the way you wanted to play because with March Madness there's been a lot of upsets that have happened. How important was it to establish the way you wanted to play?
JEFF WALZ: Well, it was really important for us. We turned them over and scored off their turnovers. To be honest, we ended up with 23 points off their turnovers, but the problem is we turned them over 18 times. You've got to try to -- at least three-fourths of the time when you turn somebody over you've got to convert those into points. I would have liked to have seen us with about 28 points. But we missed some transition lay-ups and some shots that we normally make.
Overall the start was outstanding. Our intensity was great. Our crowd was amazing. The crowd was absolutely amazing, and I appreciate all of them.
Q. Kayleigh was 4 of 6 for Gonzaga in the first half, and she goes 1 of 5 there in the second half. What adjustments did you look to make to keep her off balance because she really kind of helped trigger that run to get them back in the game in the first half?
JEFF WALZ: Oh, she did. She's a really good player. I think part of it was I think we wore her down some. As the game went on with the pressure that we were able to continue to throw at them, I think it wore them down some.
Then we made a few adjustments of making sure that we didn't lose her. We tried to back off of her at times and not get hit on that little screen they ran, the rub play, and just tried to make sure we stayed between her and the basket and make her shoot over us.
I thought we did a great job just handling the physicality of the game. I loved the way the game was officiated. I say it every year, I wish we officiated the entire year like this. It just allows them to play.
You allow -- all these young women spend time in the weight room, so it's okay to let them fight for a loose ball for a second, and I thought they did that tonight instead of just calling a quick jump ball, they allowed them to play, they allowed them to box out, they allowed them to play a game, but then at the same time they called the obvious fouls.
I thought it was a very, very well officiated game. You didn't see a ton of tick-tack fouls. It had no impact on the flow of the game, it had no impact on the game, and they did an outstanding job, and that's what you're trying to find every single night, and I thought our kids handled it well. I thought their kids handled it well, as well.
Q. It's a tie game I think 36-36, Hailey goes on a run with a lay-up and two three-pointers. She has this look in her eye like, I don't know, an old west gunfighter. What is it about her in those moments that enables her to deal with that pressure, and is she crazy?
JEFF WALZ: No, no. Did Emily call her crazy? Boy, that's the pot calling the kettle black right there. I've got Em, she's yelling at me, telling me I'm not backing her when the officials are going whatever. I'm like, Em, I can't yell halfway down the court all the time. I wait until they get in front of me so I can give them an earful.
No, they're great. They're just competitors. But Hailey loves the moment. She loves to be in that moment.
We called that baseline out-of-bounds play for her right there, she hits the three off the hand-off by O, we get it reversed, she hits a three.
I really -- I told them, our problem in the first half was we took way too many threes, too many quick threes. Again, we started the game, we executed, we went inside out, we made a couple real nice ones off of a ball reversal, and then we just tried to start hitting home runs and grand slams and taking took quick ones, then when we settled down we started to drive the ball, we got some and-ones, but Hailey just loves the moment.
I was proud of all of them. We had 13 assists and only eight turnovers on the night, and if we can continue to do that, then we're going to have a chance to continue to advance because as I've said all along, if we're going to lose a game, I want to just be able to walk into this pressroom and say we missed shots, and if it happens, you might lose. But I don't want it to be because we allowed someone to go off for 30 driving left when we know that's all they do.
I thought tonight we did a really good job defensively. We held them to 4 of 20 from the three-point line. We did put them at the free-throw line too much. Then we gave them too many offensive boards there, and that's kind of when they made their run is when they were getting second-chance opportunities.
Q. That spinning lay-up Emily hit on the break off one bounce, one, she confessed that she thought it was a travel. I don't know how you feel about that. But number two, have you ever seen someone pull something like that --
JEFF WALZ: Well, I told her at the time-out that that's going to be her station at camp, so she can teach all those kids exactly how to do that because I've never seen that.
But she's done that a few times and made some shots that you just don't expect to go in. But she's so long, and she's got good control of the basketball with her left or right hand. So yeah, I'm not sure if it was a walk, and it was so unorthodox, I don't know if the official could tell it was a walk or not. I'll go back and watch it.
But it was a big-time play for us.
Q. You all talk a lot about the scouting report and trying to adhere to that. What about the scouting report or what about the game from the scouting report was better than what you expected?
JEFF WALZ: You know, I don't think we did any -- well, we did defend the three-point line extremely well. A few times we had some screw-ups. We gave a three up, but to allow them to go only 4 for 20 was a big thing for us because we knew that's where they score the ball from, especially the big three, Cierra Walker goes 2 for 7, Kayleigh goes 0 for 3 and Kaylynne goes 2 for 7. So we held their shooters and really did a good job of contesting shots.
Q. You've probably been asked about Emily already, but this is her first trip to the second weekend. She's had an incredible two days. I don't know if you can put into words just the things she does on the floor and the way she seems to almost will you guys to runs at times.
JEFF WALZ: No, you can't. The kid plays hard. That's what it is. It's the one thing I'll always say about her. She goes 3 for 13 from the field. It's not like she lit it up shooting the basketball. But what she does, she does everything else. She starts the game -- we start the game because she gets an O board, two of them. I think she got one, she missed it, she got her own and then finished it.
She just competes. It's really amazing. She's got an unbelievable instinct for the basketball. Like the one steal she almost gets and she knocked it out of bounds opposite the scorer's table, I just looked at Beth and our staff, and I just shake my head because it's nothing you practice. It's just an instinct because if she doesn't get it, her kid is wide open for a lay-up, but she's able to understand the person they're throwing the ball to has her back to her, so even if she catches it she's probably not going to see her. Em has come up with countless numbers of those steals.
She's so long, she anticipates well. They try to throw a few high-low passes that she stole herself, and she is definitely an asset. When you can go 3 for 13 and you all are talking about the performance she had, I think it speaks volumes for how she plays throughout the entire game. Again, five steals, three assists, one turnovers, two blocks, she goes 6 of 7 at the free-throw line and gets a double-double. That's pretty impressive.
Q. I think there were six double-digit seeds that won in the first round. A couple won today, as well. How important is it or how does that help the game? Does women's basketball need a team like an '85 Villanova or a St. Peter's or Loyola Chicago to really kind of help grow the sport?
JEFF WALZ: Well, I think the '13 Louisville Cardinals team helped also, our win over Baylor in the Sweet 16. We were a 27-point underdog for any of those that are interested, and then to go on and beat a Tennessee team, which that's -- I'll just tell you a little background story on that so you can thoroughly enjoyed it.
We shared a hotel. I've been in the NCAA Tournament many times and been fortunate to move on to the Sweet 16 and have never in my life shared a hotel with a team, and we shared a hotel with Tennessee that year. That's how much faith they had in us that we would beat Baylor. Now all of a sudden you've got two teams playing in the Elite 8 that we were breaking bread together each morning at breakfast. It was crazy.
Yeah, of course it's great for the game, but this isn't easy. Everybody thinks this is easy. I don't care, the parity in our game has gotten better, and it's going to continue to get better.
There are several men's games that are blowouts in the first round but nobody talks about it. But if it's a women's game, it's like, oh, my, there's no parity in the game, look at that, it's terrible. I've seen plenty of those on the men's side.
I laugh at things because I have watched men's games where it's 10-8 under 10 minutes to go in the first half, but see, the problem is they only play halves, so it's a big deal when a women's game is like 6-4 at the end of the first quarter. But nobody says a damn word if there's a men's game that 10-8 with 10 minutes to go because they might get it to 28-22 at the half.
So I'll tell you, if you go back and look at some of those games, you'll see that at the 10-minute mark, there wasn't much scoring in those, either. But it's just kind of the way things work.
We're okay with it. We know the product that we put on the court.
Our game is going to continue to grow. There's a lot more schools now that are investing in women's basketball, putting the resources into it, and when you do that, you see results.
It's fun, it's exciting. Just all of them, you've got Belmont playing tomorrow night, they have a huge win. I just saw that South Dakota won. They're really well-coached. I've got a ton of respect -- our coach at South Dakota, she coached at my alma mater for a few years up there at Northern Kentucky and did a remarkable job.
There's a lot of great coaches in this game, and we're going to continue to see our women's basketball game evolve.
Q. You were saying it not being easy, 11 times now to the Sweet 16, what does that say for this program and what you guys have done?
JEFF WALZ: I think it's pretty impressive. You know, it's hard. I'm telling you, it's hard. I mean, I've got a great staff, I'm excited for Sam to be able to take over a Mississippi State program now once we're finished, but he's stuck here for at least another week, and I think he's excited about that.
It takes everybody. It takes -- from day one, I say it all the time, from day one when I got hired here, I wasn't told you have a salary pool to hire from. You have $300,000 or $175,000 to hire three assistants. Tom told me to go out and get the best three I could get, and Steph Norman will tell you, when I brought her up for a visit, she met with Tom, and Tom said, okay, what are they paying you at Vanderbilt. She gave her the number, he goes, I'll pay you this much more. He slides the piece of paper across. Well, she signed. I got her. Michelle Clark-Heard, same thing. I was able to hire three assistants that had experience. Michelle Clark-Heard, I worked with Michelle at Nebraska, she was at Cincinnati, she was at head coach at Kentucky State, Michelle comes in. Bethann Ord had been at Tulsa, she was at Colorado.
You know, when universities allow their women's basketball coaches, their head coaches to hire experienced people, it allows you to be able to hit the ground running, and that's what we were able to do here.
I think that's a big part of why we're where we are, and I'm fortunate to be at a place where they still care about it, and they appreciate what we do. The crowd tonight was amazing, but overall it's not just how our players play, it's what they do in the community. They're rock stars. I think that's really, really important.
Q. Hailey plays 37 minutes tonight and she is almost constantly on the move. What can you say about her conditioning and her just -- energizer bunny?
JEFF WALZ: Yeah, all of our kids. Our strength coach Rhen has done a fantastic job with our kids. And Hailey is -- I'm telling you, I went out to recruit her, and her training, what she does is off the charts. I've never seen anything like it from a high school kid. I watched her on a rowing machine and the thing was about to burn up. I've never seen a kid go so hard. It's just what she does.
She'd want to play 40 minutes if I'd let her. But I know to have her at her best, I've got to give her a break here or there.
I've got to get a few more of our kids to give us more next weekend. There's no question. But the old my-bads don't work at this time of the year. My-bads put you sitting right by me. You can't go into a game and then not know a scouting report, not know what's going on and expect to stay, because one or two possessions is what changes an entire game.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports