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April 1, 2022

Jeff Walz

Hailey Van Lith

Kianna Smith

Emily Engstler

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Target Center

Louisville Cardinals

Semi-Final Postgame Media Conference

South Carolina 72, Louisville 59

JEFF WALZ: First, I'd just like to congratulate South Carolina, Dawn, on what I thought was a great basketball game. I've said it all year, if we're going to lose a game, I want it to be because we just missed shots. I really thought we had some great looks, and just some that went in and out for us at crunch time to cut the lead to four, to two. It's part of it, but I've never been prouder of a group. They've absolutely been a joy to coach.

I told them in the locker room, you don't ever want to say that's your favorite team, because then all your past teams get mad at you, but I'd put this group right up there at the top. You start back in the spring and the summer, all the way through April the 1st, and it was just an absolute joy to coach them, to watch them grow as people, watch them grow as individuals, and then to watch us grow as a team.

There's not one second that I regret about it, a damn thing that we did, and I am so proud of these three that are sitting here, and we're going to cherish the moments that we shared together, the games that we played.

That's all.

Q. Emily and Kianna, what has this season meant to you guys? I know obviously not the way you wanted it to end, but what has the year meant to you guys knowing it's your final season?

EMILY ENGSTLER: What a ride. You know, you don't realize where you're really going when you decide to transfer for one more year, and I know Ki is also a transfer and Chelsie, and you bond through that. And I think that this team has really good at welcoming in players and finding one thing that we all really wanted to do, and that was win.

Yeah, we lost this game, but I don't think we gave up, not on one play. I think we should all leave this arena and Minneapolis with our heads held very high. I'm extremely proud of this team, and I've had an amazing time with them.

Q. Hailey, the two young women sitting next to you are moving on to the pros. You're going to be here next year. Having kind of laid this sort of foundation, going to a Final Four with them, what have you learned from them that you can kind of take into next year as kind of the leader of this group?

HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, you know, obviously they were a really big part of our team this year, but I think what they contributed the most, especially for me as a player, was they taught me how to be a leader, and the team needed me to do that.

I think after the Miami loss, we were like, we didn't really have anyone that could just like pull the team together and like get us all going, and they taught me to be that person. And I think that them being willing to look at me and tell me that they needed me to be that for us to get to this spot as a team is really big-time, and I think that's why they're pros.

You look at all the intangibles they bring, obviously Emily and Kianna's performance on the court, but off the court, how they just elevated everyone else and made everyone else a better player. You can't teach that, and they naturally have that, and that's why they're going to be drafted really soon and I'm going to be there at the draft, I'm going to be cheering for them on my feet screaming because those are my girls. Yeah, I'm a fan for life. For the rest of their careers I'm going to be clapping for them.

Q. Emily, last play of the third quarter you're only down six, you pick up your fourth foul. How did that inhibit you going forward, if at all, and how does that play on your mind?

EMILY ENGSTLER: Yeah, it wasn't my favorite thing, but I'm going to be honest with you, this could have been in my head at the moment, my last game of my college career. I'm not going to change the way I play for a specific reffing situation.

I'm an aggressive basketball player. If that's how I'm going to go out, then that's how I was going to go out, but I was going to put everything in me on that floor for these girls and for myself and for our fans, who we had a lot of, and we're really appreciative.

I took a risk, and it happens.

Q. Hailey, as time was running down and you're playing the clock and the score, how much pressure did you put on yourself to try to make something happen?

HAILEY VAN LITH: I think they did a really good job of making it hard for me to even get the ball. They obviously clearly were not going to let me get touches. They basically face-guarded me the whole game. They did a good job of executing that, and I did get shots. I played a little passive, I will say that, with their length in the key. I was able to get to spots in the key but they're long, they've gotta Aliyah Boston and Saxton in there. So I was looking to kick and we did good shots. O did great hitting those shots when I hit her.

Yeah, I think it was a little -- I needed to get going a little earlier and needed to be more aggressive, especially off of pick and roll. But they did a good job of executing their game plan with me, and I'll take that and learn from it.

Q. Hailey, you kind of mentioned the length South Carolina has. How much did that and the way they played defense either bother your offensive flow or what kind of impact did that have?

HAILEY VAN LITH: You know, I think it impacted us in the first quarter. We altered our lay-ups a little bit because of the length, but after that I thought we did a really good job. Olivia played great. Olivia scored, like she got to her spots and scored. Emily scored, Kianna scored over the length. I think after the first quarter we really got comfortable and realized it's just a basketball game.

But I will say in that first quarter it did affect us, but after that I think we adjusted pretty well.

Q. Not only are you losing a couple of really great senior players, but one of your assistants is moving on, Sam Purcell. I was just kind of wondering, how has he helped you build this thing that you have here at Louisville, and how important has he been to all this?

JEFF WALZ: Well, you know, it was Sam's game plan tonight, so I mean, I don't know if that bodes well for Mississippi State or not.

No, I'm just kidding.

No, Sam is fantastic. We have spent nine great years together. When I was an assistant, I had aspirations and dreams of being a head coach one day, and that's what a lot of my staff, they have those dreams, they have those aspirations. And I've always told them it doesn't matter if you're here for one year, five years, ten, whatever it is, when those opportunities present themselves, then we need to go after them. This presented itself for Sam, and we're just so excited for him to be moving on to become the head coach.

You know, he'll get the fun -- to be the one now that has to make the final call on things. But he's been fantastic. He's like a brother. His family is -- his daughters are close to my daughters, and he's got a wonderful wife, and we're going to miss him.

But we were thrilled that we were able to continue to work together for three extra weeks throughout the entire NCAA Tournament, and what a way to be able to send him out with a Final Four run. We wanted the opportunity to compete for a National Championship, but it just wasn't meant to be tonight.

Q. You have a player in Emily who is pretty clearly going to be a first-round draft pick in the upcoming draft. You've got in Hailey somebody who's two years away. I'm curious if you can take me through what kind of pro player you see Emily being at the W level, and what it is that Hailey needs to do between now and then to get there?

JEFF WALZ: Emily is going to be good. That's the type of player. She'll be a good one. She's going to continue to grow and continue to develop and continue to work on a 15-footer, a pull-up jump shot, just different aspects of her game. But you can't teach her instincts, you can't teach her length, you can't teach her ability to disrupt at the defensive end of the floor. It's just remarkable what she's able to do. She's going to have herself a pretty darned good professional career.

Hailey, she's really damn good. I mean, there's nothing per se that she has to do in order to become a pro. She's just going to continue to do what she does. She's in the gym, she works on her game, she continues to improve her skill set. I thought her leadership really just took off this season. She's really embraced that. She does a great job of being able to communicate with all of her teammates.

She'll just continue to get better and better because she puts the work in.

So yeah, the kid is going to be a pro, too. It's just a matter of when she's able to come out. When the rules change, if they don't, whatever it's going to be, but when her time comes, there's no question in my mind that she's going to have a long pro career.

Q. Regarding Hailey, she gets her first two shots blocked, she talked about the length that South Carolina had. How did that influence what you tried to do going in strategically, and do you think that bothered her?

JEFF WALZ: No, that's the one thing I'll tell you about that kid. She could get her shot blocked six times, it's not going to impact her. She's a competitor. That's what I love about her.

But she adjusted. She took the ball to the basket hard. I was surprised that she wasn't able to get to the free-throw line once or twice with how hard she was attacking the rim. But overall she adjusted to that. She came off the ball screens, and they blitzed her, they went after her, they tried to face-guard her. She got others involved. She set a couple really nice screens, which when you're being face guarded then your man is not going to help, but freed up her teammates.

Yeah, she comes up with nine boards tonight? I love coaching her. The kid is going to be an All-American next year, at least she should be. There's no question in my mind, for what she's done throughout our ACC regular season and then this NCAA Tournament, I think she's shown everybody how damn good she is.

Q. On Hailey and O, how much can they learn from something like this next year because you're obviously going to need both of them to play really well next season. Were you surprised you weren't able to get as many shots from deep as you would have liked?

JEFF WALZ: What they did a nice job of was guarding the three-point line. They made us throw it inside, but I thought O played well, I thought Emily drove the ball well and scored. We took six more shots than they took. Unfortunately they got to the free-throw line 17 times to our 7. That was a big part of the game.

If you look at the stat sheet, everything I thought we had to do, we did. We only get out-rebounded by three, we have 14 second-chance points to their 10. Where we got hurt was 50/50 balls. We got a couple deflections, a couple blocked shots, and it probably wasn't even counted as a shot, and they end up getting a loose ball and putting it up and scoring.

In the first half we had three possessions where we got completely lost on defense and gave them three uncontested lay-ups under the basket. It's not that we weren't playing hard. S--- happens. But it was a dagger. It's like, when you give up the easy ones, then it's like, God, we just worked so hard.

You've got to give South Carolina credit; we came out of the third quarter and trapped, out of the initial pass, had them scrambling, and I think they go three for three, their first three threes to start the first quarter. I said, if they make 10 threes we're going to be in trouble. They made three out of five in the third quarter and we're still right there with a chance.

I mean, it's a six- or seven-point game and Emily's three goes in and out. You have to get a break. In these games like this, you have to get a break, and unfortunately we didn't get the breaks.

Q. Aliyah Boston finished with 23 and 18. I haven't coached college basketball for 15 years, but I can tell you some obvious ways that I think she's good at the game. I'm curious for you what are the small ways that she changes the game or maybe the nuances that are really evident to you that she really impacts the game?

JEFF WALZ: She's 6'5". That impacts it. She has good hands. She moves well. She finishes on both sides of the floor. She goes after the ball. She's good. She's really good. It doesn't take me to tell you what she's good at.

I've got a six-year-old that can sit there and watch the game and be like, yeah, she's good. Yeah, she's really good.

Q. When you were at Maryland, obviously that was a winning culture. What you have been able to accomplish in Louisville speaks for itself. What is the momentum going forward, because I know you've been to the title game twice, unfortunately did not go your way. What is the game plan to make sure that you can return to the title game and actually bring the school the first title?

JEFF WALZ: We're not going to change anything. I don't think there's any reason to change anything. We've been to four Final Fours in 15 years. I don't think that's too shabby. Do we want to win a National Championship? Of course we do. But again, I'm just telling you, you've got to get lucky. You've got to get a few breaks to go your way. In '18 I thought that was probably our best shot to win one, and unfortunately we didn't get some breaks.

I'll leave it at that. Damn, if you watch the last about 20 seconds of the game, you'll see that we didn't get many breaks. It's the way it is. I don't know why we'd want to change things.

I listen to people talk about other coaches who have a dynasty going and they've been to four Final Fours. So have we. It just all depends what your narrative, what you want it to be. If your narrative wants to be that we can't win the big game, so be it, that's what your narrative is going to be. But if you want it to be that this is a program that had never been to a Sweet 16 for 32 years of it and now we've been to four Final Fours? That's what I'd go with. But that might not sell papers, it might not get clicks. So you can either tear kids down or build them up. I choose to build them up. And unfortunately it might not get as many clicks as you all want.

But I'm pretty damn impressed with my group. I love my kids. We ain't going to change a damn thing we do no matter what y'all write. Because if it's me, I'm being positive of what these kids just did this entire season. But unfortunately positivity doesn't sell. It's negativity. Okay?

Go ahead, I'm on a roll. Keep going. Who's next? I got nowhere to go except the bar.

Q. On a positive note --

JEFF WALZ: I ain't giving you a ride back to the airport.

Q. Emily, a remarkable player in many ways, kind of wears her heart on her sleeve. She picks up that fourth foul at the end of the third quarter, fairly crucial moment. What do you tell her there, and how long were you prepared to hold her out?

JEFF WALZ: Well, you know what? She plays hard. There was nothing to tell her. The kid is a great basketball player. She understands the game. She's got a great mind. It's not like she didn't know, like goddamn, that's my fourth foul. She knew it was her fourth foul, but it's okay. I was hoping to go about two minutes with her on the bench, and then the fifth was just unfortunate. It's a pass that gets tipped and it's a loose ball, she falls on top. It's the first foul that frustrates me where her arm is tangled, they get the rebound, it has no impact on the play. She's trying to just pull her arm down, and they called a foul.

That's the one where it's like -- on the other side, on the games that are being played tomorrow night, that's probably not a foul because it didn't impact anything, but it was tonight, and it was a big one. The first one was a tough one. The other ones, she fouled.

Keep going. What's the rush?

Q. What is one funny memory from the season? It could be off the court. Please share with us a funny memory.

JEFF WALZ: You know what, there's so many of them but there's a lot of them I can't tell. We like to keep things within our family. They're a joy to be with. Our kids every game, every road trip we go on, they're always trying to scare each other, they're trying to scare a coach, they're jumping out behind the elevator, whatever they can do. That's their goal, it's who can scare who. We just have a great time together. That's why I love this team. Great group.

Q. Coach, you talked earlier about trust, and you trusted your group, the five that were on the floor up to the first time-out. Whatever you said to them in that 30 seconds, they brought it back out on the floor and closed the gap. Just talk about the trust that you had in this team this year.

JEFF WALZ: Well, yeah. We're 29 and 5. I'd like to say we're 30 and 5 due to a forfeit, but unfortunately NCAA won't count that as a win. I'm counting it as a win. So in my record I've got 30 and 5 in my official record count. It's kids that they've played this entire season, I know what they're able to do. They were just excited.

I think we had three air balls in the first six shots. That's just adrenaline. That's playing at the Final Four. That's like, okay, and they just calmed down, and then I thought we played really, really, really well the rest of that first half.

The last minute and a half, two minutes of the half were crucial. I would have liked to have been able to go in down two or tied, and unfortunately we weren't. Part of that, again, we ran a set play for Emily there at the end of the quarter. I thought we were going to get a lay-up and we just about did, and then they come down the floor and score at the end of the half.

But that group showed me all year what they're able to do.

Q. You were obviously getting a little choked up and emotional. You've talked about your connection with this team. What is it about it that strikes something deeper within you?

JEFF WALZ: Well, it's the relationships you build with them. It's getting to know them, because we take a lot of pride as a staff to get to know these young women, not just as basketball players but as people and to try to get to know their families. It's what we do. It's what I love about this job. It's the reason -- I've had the opportunity to switch over to the men's side once or twice, and I've just had no interest in doing that back when I was an assistant. Because the fact that -- until now, you get to coach kids for four years. Like normally you recruit a kid in, they're with you for four years because they're not going to leave after a year to go to the league. There is no one-and-dones, two-and-dones. You get them so you get a chance to build those relationships and watch them grow.

They come in as a 17- or 18-year-old, and they leave as a 22- or 23-year-old woman, and it's really amazing. It's what I love about this job. I love the relationships and the friendships I've built. I've loved the wedding announcements I get, the baby shower announcements, all of it. I tell my kids all the time -- because a lot of times when they get married it's always in the spring or the summer and that's when we're on the road recruiting. So I tell them I'm the perfect invite because I'm the invite that's not going to be able to come so you don't have to pay for the food. But I'm going to send you a great gift because it's one time the NCAA can't give me hell or tell me I'm breaking a rule for sending a couple hundred bucks.

So I am the perfect invite, and I tell my kids that every year, invite me, send me the baby shower invite, we're perfect.

Is that not the ideal wedding, though? You want to invite 100 people and have nobody show up? The amount of money you save, and then you get the gifts? I mean, that's why I'm the best invite on the list. Then I tell them, even if I'm available, I'm like, if you don't want me to come, it's okay, I'll still send you a gift. It's wonderful.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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