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March 4, 2023

Jeff Walz

Hailey Van Lith

Olivia Cochran

Greensboro, North Carolina, USA

Louisville Cardinals

Postgame Press Conference

Louisville 64, Notre Dame 38

JEFF WALZ: Well, just first like to start off like I try each game no matter what side we come out on, I'd like to congratulate Niele and her staff and team on winning our league. I think it's the toughest league in women's basketball top to bottom, and to do it over a two-month period to win the league is extremely impressive to me.

I've always been a fan that I think the regular season champion should get the automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament because that's the team who showed over two months that they're the best team. And all of a sudden a kid sprains an ankle, gets hurt, you lose in the semis or the Finals. But just congratulate them.

And then I've got to give a huge shout-out to our group. What an unbelievable effort we had at the defensive end of the floor. Just the fight we had. We go 1 for 13 from three, 15 of 20 at the free-throw line, we out-rebounded them by 12. We only turned it over 12 times. Just our effort defensively was fantastic.

If we want to continue to have success in this tournament tomorrow and then in the NCAA Tournament, that's what we have to do. That's something that we've built this program on over a 16-year stretch is we might not score, but it's going to be damn hard for you to score. And unfortunately this season we didn't have that for some reason.

But the past two ballgames we have, and hopefully that will continue because it's not getting any easier from here on out.

Again, I've got a wonderful group. They're outstanding young ladies, and just blessed to coach them.

Q. You mentioned the defense; it just seemed like there's just a different attitude or mentality. What would you say is different in terms of the way that you guys are just approaching the defense right now?

JEFF WALZ: Well, I just think it's our mental approach to it. It's just the importance, the urgency. It's not did my man score, it's did they score. And we were communicating so well today of picking up for each other. If I got screened, Hailey jumped on my man and then I jumped on hers, where throughout the season, Hailey might switch or O. might switch to help me and then I just keep following my man, like oh, that's my man. Then they throw back to the one I switched off of and they score on us.

Well, today our communication was outstanding. We made things extremely difficult for Notre Dame to get into an offense, and I thought it started with the ball pressure that Kas put on, and then when CC came out there, she did the same thing.

Q. Hailey, did you see something like this coming where you guys just kind of kept going? Notre Dame had no chance today.

HAILEY VAN LITH: I mean, I had no idea how Notre Dame was going to play, but I knew how we were going to play. We've had a great vibe, great practices. The team is just locked in.

I knew how we were going to play, and we played that way. It was just a matter of if Notre Dame was going to match us or not.

Q. Coach talked yesterday in the press about how he's really ramped up the intensity the past few days of practice. I think a lot of teams and players and coaches talk about flipping a switch when you get to the postseason, but it seems like you all are able to do it and respond. Can you talk about what makes this team able to switch into another gear, and particularly what Coach has done to maybe change things from the regular season?

OLIVIA COCHRAN: I feel like us just staying together. We had defensive stops. I feel like defenses win championships, so we've got to play defense to keep winning, and I feel like that's our spark. That's what I feel like.

HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, I would say the same thing. I think offensively we've been pretty consistent all season. It was just a matter of if we were going to decide to step up to the plate defensively. And I think we've all decided to trust each other is what I feel has been the main difference. Just like Coach said, our rotations are on point right now. We all have each other's backs, and people are willing to take charges, people are willing to get out there and hedge all the way to half court.

I think just the effort willing to be given on defense has elevated us.

Q. Coach, guard play, turnovers, only 12, and yet the harassing, dominating defense. And then Olivia, could you speak to your extra effort, almost to have a double-double against this tall Notre Dame team?

JEFF WALZ: I'll start. I'll take the blame for that, for O. not getting a double-double. She wanted to go back in. She played 22 minutes, but I told her she should have gotten all 10 of them in the 22 minutes, so I'm not sure what she was doing.

OLIVIA COCHRAN: I'm soft, Coach.

JEFF WALZ: Thank you. No, I'm just really proud. O. will tell you, we had a nice little conversation one day in the office just about trusting, about trusting this process. The thing about this game, it doesn't lie. If you cheat it, man, you will get exposed. You can't hide it.

You're saying you're working on your ball handling and you're not as a guard, you get pressed, you can't fool them. You can't be like, I wear I've been out there working on them. O., she's a physical player, but I was just like, O., stop trying to run everybody over, stop trying to create contact, just go up.

Our last two games -- our last three games she's been spectacular just catching, finishing, ripping in drives. Great soft touch. We executed extremely well on the baseline out of bounds and scored a couple of big baskets, but I'm just really proud of the growth from Olivia.

I know everybody is like oh, can they win if Hailey doesn't score? She forces so much attention, and she shared the basketball. She made some beautiful passes -- she had a beautiful pass down there to Liz that just didn't quite go in. But I think people now -- you watch this and you're like, okay, you might put all your effort on Hailey, but she's a pretty darned good basketball player of knowing how to get others involved, too. And she set some great screens in yesterday's game and today's game. She made a couple big shots there in the third quarter that extended our lead.

Just really proud of all of them.

OLIVIA COCHRAN: Well, I'm just doing my role. I know what my teammates need from me, so I just continue to execute that anyway I can. And if that's getting every rebound that come off the backboard, that's what I'm going to do. If that's getting a put-back, that's what I'm doing and just executing my role.

Q. A week ago you played Notre Dame, Sonia Citron had a really strong performance. You were able to take her out and keep her non-effective for most of the game. What were you seeing that allowed you to have such success against her today?

HAILEY VAN LITH: I think this game instead of last game, I think both games in the first half we guarded her pretty well, and then the second half we just let her get space. We ran into screens. We weren't there on the catch. I think just this game, like we were there for 40 minutes. We made everything tough. We were staying on hand-offs. We were in her body. When she came off screens, we didn't get screened. We were right back in the pocket.

I think we didn't give her any space. She was going to have to make really tough twos over us, and yeah, so we just played the percentages there.

But she's a great player, and yeah, I expect her career to really take off from here.

JEFF WALZ: We did a really good job. We're finally not running into screens. We were one of the best teams in the country at running into people throughout our regular season. We really were. Like you could be five feet away and we'd still figure out a way to run into you.

Coach Norman would be sitting in practice the past week going, pretend it's a cactus, pretend the screen is a chair, and you'd see them jumping over the top of them, turning our feet.

I've always said, you can give fake effort at times on the court. I go over hard and I run into a screen. That's fake effort. We, the past two days, have been phenomenal at getting over the top of screens, not running into screens, and then recovering if we did get hit a little bit to get back in the play. And I thought that's what we did such a good job of.

And our posts did an awesome job of making their posts catch the ball higher up. Instead of being able to catch it at the elbow, they were having to rise up above the three-point line, which then kind of throws the offensive -- the timing off. Just all of them, they all did such a wonderful job.

Q. Hailey, how were you able to find your sweet spot in the second half?

HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, you know, I think I started off the game, and I found my shots, they just weren't going in. I'm the type of player that just because I miss a couple, my confidence level stays the same, and my coaches and my teammates were telling me to keep shooting. I just kept getting to the same spots I got to in the first half. It wasn't really a different mentality or anything.

I just kept the same mindset. I figured out that I could get downhill on them, and I just started playing out of those reads, whether I was going to drop a dump pass, get into my pull-up, I drew a couple fouls getting to the rim.

I think I kept with my own game plan, and it paid off in the end.

Q. You lost to them in the regular season by a combined five points and you had that rough exit from here last year. Did all of that give you guys some extra motivation?

OLIVIA COCHRAN: Of course. Of course. I feel like that motivated us to everything. We knew we had them, but we let up in the fourth quarter and the second half, like we said. And we just kept putting the gas pedal, we kept putting our foot on the gas pedal, and we knew what we needed to do, so we came out and did what we needed to do.

JEFF WALZ: For last year's game, the kids had nothing to do with that. They did everything they had to do to win the basketball game. I screwed that up. So last year's ACC Tournament, they played fantastic. I screwed that up.

I told them before the game started, we've lost by a combined five points. We led for 28 minutes of the game at Notre Dame. We led for 29 minutes of the game at our place on Sunday. It's not like we were down 18 and you scraped back to lose by five. We just didn't finish.

Obviously that's a big part of it, but I thought today we start to finish played extremely well.

Q. How do you guys carry over that defensive effort tomorrow in the championship game?

JEFF WALZ: Well, it's a championship game. If we have to talk about that, we've got some bigger problems. I don't think that's going to be an issue. The excitement of either playing Duke or Virginia Tech, both are very great programs, great basketball teams, and the opportunity to play for a championship.

Yeah, we're excited. Our kids are excited. I have no doubts our effort is going to be the same tomorrow.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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