March 17, 2023
Austin, Texas, USA
THE MODERATOR: Good morning everyone. Welcome to the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship first round pregame press conference here in Austin, Texas, featuring the University of Louisville.
Our format again today is there will be an opening statement from head coach Jeff Walz. Congratulations, to you, Coach, and your players for the tournament appearance.
Coach, welcome again. If you could just give us an opening statement please.
JEFF WALZ: We're just honored and excited to be back involved with the NCAA Tournament. It's a great time of the year. So many exciting things, exciting games. We've been watching them as they've been going on, both on the men's side and the women's side.
It's fun. It's what you work your entire year for is to get to these games. We're looking forward to a great ballgame tomorrow night with a great Drake team that we've got the utmost respect for, watched a ton of film, and just really, really impressed with them.
Just excited to be here with this group of ladies. We've had a really good season, and excited as I believe we're playing our best basketball right now.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach. We'll introduce the players now. We have junior guard Hailey Van Lith and graduate student guard Mykasa Robinson with us.
Q. For the players, Coach talked about he thinks you're playing your best basketball right now. High expectations when the season started, some early losses. Tell me about this team now versus the way you started the season. And what do you think you can accomplish with what you're doing on the court right now?
MYKASA ROBINSON: I think for us right now we really flipped a switch with our defense. I think earlier in the year we really focused on some different things. I think right now we've all really been able to engage with each other, be focused, locked into the scout.
I think our intensity is different now. March, we all know it's win or go home. So our mindset and our intensity has been different.
HAILEY VAN LITH: I would say the thing I noticed the most is we all are just -- everyone has stepped up on how hard they're going to play. Even me and Mykasa, we started playing harder too than we thought we could before. We all just collectively took one step forward.
Yeah, I think with how we're playing right now, the potential for this team is unlimited, but also at the same time, we also know our defaults.
So we're just going to continue to try and take that next step tomorrow and play even harder and just take it one game at a time.
Q. It's kind of a strained -- it's not usual for Louisville, at least in recent years, to be opening on somebody else's home court in the NCAA Tournament. Take away the pandemic tournament. Just what it is about this team that tells you you can fight through potentially the home court advantage here in these early rounds? That has been such a critical thing in the NCAA Tournament for years now.
HAILEY VAN LITH: I think for us we play good on the road. We compete hard on the road. We competed hard at Notre Dame. We competed hard at Virginia Tech. We play well on the road, and I think it gives us a little chip on our shoulder and adds a bit of fuel to the fire.
I have no problem playing on the road. Of course we love our fans, and we show out great at the Yum! Center, but I know we're going to have a good number that traveled with us because that's how they roll.
We're excited to play. We're going to come out and just play hard, and what happens happens.
MYKASA ROBINSON: Yes, 100 percent agree. Same thing as Hailey. Great answer.
Q. For you all, for those early games, maybe those close ones, how that adversity maybe brought you guys closer together going into the NCAA Tournament.
MYKASA ROBINSON: I think for us personally it showed that we all really want it. There was never a moment that we all were like, okay, some people are bought in. I think it really showed that we all are collectively wanting to win, and I think that just brought our intensity and our chemistry closer together.
Q. When you look at the tournament resume of your head coach right here, what makes him so special getting you guys to this moment? I know there's still things you want to accomplish, that first national title, but what has he done for this program to continue to have success in the postseason?
MYKASA ROBINSON: Coach Walz, he's a winner. He knows how to win. He knows how to push us and motivate us to get the best out of all of us.
I think we just buy in and we trust him. I know I do, and I know Hailey does. I think we follow him to the end.
JEFF WALZ: I want to interrupt. Our players do it. I don't. I have not scored a point. I look good on the sideline, but I have not scored a point. It's the type of players that we have here. They understand when March hits, it's one-and-dones, my bads, they send you home, and they all buy in. That's what I've said for 16 years.
What's fun is when you get a group of players and they care more about each other. You know, if somebody forgets to box out, they aren't looking at me. That's my thought, it won't happen again. When they care more about each other than they worry about me taking them out of the game or seeing it, I know what the potential is, and that's where this team is right now.
We've just been blessed to have competitors and fighters and great young ladies that represent our university.
Q. Guys, you have been, even in games you've lost, you've had leads. You were up big on Ohio State, up big at Notre Dame. I guess, what do you think is the last piece for you? Just kind of is it attention to detail or hard work? You've mentioned both things. But for being so close, what do you view is going to get you over the hump in the tournament?
MYKASA ROBINSON: I think for us it's putting 40 minutes together. I think all those teams are great teams of course. I think it's more of an us problem. 40 minutes is what gets you to advance in March. So I'm just excited for us to do that.
HAILEY VAN LITH: I think our third quarters are really important for us. We had really good third quarters in the ACC tournament, and we played really well. I think for us the difference is coming out from halftime, establishing dominance for the rest of the second half.
Q. There's a question about the difficulty of playing on the road. Do you guys like being on the road together? It's a whole different experience than if you're in your own rooms or whatever, apartments at home. But getting to experience this on the road and being out in a different part, is there anything appealing about that to this team?
HAILEY VAN LITH: I mean, I wouldn't say -- I would really say personally I don't know if a lot of us have very -- like care. I mean, we just want an opportunity. That's what it comes down to. We just wanted an opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament and we got it and it happened to be on the road, but that's not going to affect our mindset.
If we were a 4 seed and we got to play at home, that's opportunity. That's all we needed was a chance, and we got it.
Q. I'll just ask you what do you know about your first round opponent? What do they bring, and what do you have to do to win?
MYKASA ROBINSON: Drake's a great team. They move really well together. They play hard. They cut hard. They're a solid team all the way around. For us we just have to stay engaged on the defensive end, get out in transition, and make sure we limit them to how many threes they get up.
HAILEY VAN LITH: I think from what I've seen they have very versatile players who can stretch the floor and also get points in the paint. Defense is going to be a big thing for us. And we're going to have to accept the challenge of guarding full court, and our bigs are going to have to guard on the perimeter. We can't foul. We can't put them at the free-throw line. We have to force them to score over our length and athleticism.
That's going to be a key for us, and that's going to be a matter of discipline. But I think we're at a point in the season where we have discipline. So it's a great opportunity against a great team on the national level, and it will be fun.
Q. Coach, maybe you could tell me about the evolution of the team from that top ten start to a couple of early losses and then really had to fight your way back to this spot. What was it about this team that was able to do that?
JEFF WALZ: We put together a pretty competitive nonconference schedule. I think that's the first thing. We've lost to 9 teams, a total of 11 games. Lost twice to Notre Dame, twice to Virginia Tech. Eight of those teams are playing in the NCAA Tournament, and one's playing in the NIT.
It's not like we played bad basketball. We were up at the half on Ohio State. MTSU whupped our butt. They played extremely well, and we played them down there. That's the one game I can tell you they just whipped us.
Every other game, South Dakota State and the Bahamas, our Gonzaga game, goes overtime, and they're both teams playing in the NCAA Tournament. So it just took a while.
I said it before the year started at our kickoff banquet we have each year, that this was going to be a team that was going to take some time just to learn each other, get a good feel for each other on the floor, and you can sense that as a coach that you're going through your preseason.
As the season continued to go, I tinkered with our lineup some, and it's not that it impacted really playing time for people, but it helped us to put a few of our starters on the bench because then we had scoring coming off the bench.
It just kind of gelled. In the past month, month and a half, we really played some good basketball. So hopefully that will continue as we go forward.
Q. You mentioned my bads get you sent home. Have you seen this team continue to hold each other accountable?
JEFF WALZ: It's gotten better. We're playing a team tomorrow night in Drake that, if you're not mentally engaged, it's just not about your physical effort of running up and down the floor. They read and react extremely well at the offensive end. If you have a mental breakdown, they're going to expose you, and that's something that we've talked to our players about. We've shown them film.
That's where you can't miss a shot at the offensive end, get frustrated, jog down the floor because, if you do, you're going to give up a three or a layup. Then all of a sudden, it's the old, hey, that's my fault.
No, I've already told them, when the horn sounds, your rear end is sitting on the bench next to me because we're not at a time of the year that it's okay for that if you want to continue to advance in this event. So they understand it.
I really think they've noticed it and paid attention to it the past month. As I've said, if we lose tomorrow night, I want it to be because we've missed shots. That's it. I don't want to walk in here to a press conference and say we didn't follow a scouting report. We left their shooters open. We turn the basketball over. I want to say we had shots.
We played NC State at home. We went 1 for 16 in the fourth quarter. You're going to lose, and I can honestly say I walked into the press room going, we missed shots, guys. It happens.
I've been doing this for 28 years, and I tell fans this too. I go to watch games, and they'll be like, God, I can't believe they can't make a shot. I don't understand it. My favorite line when someone will turn around, Coach, why aren't they making it? I'm just like, maybe they're just trying to piss you off. You know, not one player is ever trying to miss a shot.
So if we come out tomorrow night and the score's not in our favor and I can look at the stat sheets like we got good shots, the ball just didn't go in the basket. That's part of it. I don't want it to be for any other reason.
Our kids know that. They're balled in. I think they've been practicing very well, and I think they'll give great mental and physical effort tomorrow night.
Q. Jeff, I'm not going to ask you how you can coach players to make shots because, if you can do that, it would be perfect, but you have had teams get hot at the tournament. You think about Antonita Slaughter and players like that that just got in a zone. Are there teams that kind of somehow confidence clicks in and they do some things maybe they didn't even do during the regular season? I don't know what you do to bring that about. Is that something you just hope for as a coach, especially a team like this, where you've got some people that can make shots?
JEFF WALZ: No, we do. We really do work hard on it as a staff. I'm not saying every staff doesn't do it, but the intensity in practice ramps up for the past 2 1/2 weeks, and everybody is like why don't you do this the entire year? I'm not sure I'd even have 14 players left because the intensity that you're going at for these past two weeks, the mental side of things, the physical side, is intense because we know scouting reports. We know who's going left, who's going right, and we're drilling it.
As a coach, you've got to bring things in slowly. At least that's my approach. And then once you get to this time of the year, you're really ready to start going, and your kids are hungry for it.
Then we just tell them, I mean, I'm big on you shoot shots you shoot in practice. I tell them all the time, I'm not going to take you out for missing a shot as long as it's a shot you take in practice. And we do talk all the time about time and score, understanding the game.
We take a lot of pride, our players do, in watching games, the men's tournament, the women's tournament. We'll pull clips, different scenarios that go on in a game. It's a teaching moment for us just as well going look what happened here. You had a timeout left. You had this.
As a player, you have to know the situation what's going on during a game, and we do a lot of scenarios throughout practice -- down two, up two, we've got two fouls to give -- to understand, to try to practice some of it. You can't practice all of it.
But I think the more we can do at this point in time, the better prepared our kids are. We do explain to them that it is a game. I mean, it's a game. And you have to have fun playing it. And I think our kids enjoy it at this time of the year also.
Q. I was going to ask one more thing. We talk a lot about your guards, but Nyla Harris and Olivia Cochran. Olivia is obviously seasoned in the NCAA Tournament. She made free throws to get you to a Final Four last year, and Nyla's like right there. How important are they, and what have you seen from them, particularly here in the postseason?
JEFF WALZ: They're both going to be -- all of our posts, Liz and Josie, but especially O and Nyla, especially how Drake likes to play, they're going to be five out at times. Spread the floor. You've got to be able to guard at the three-pointer line. Those two can do that, which is a plus for us, and they rebound the ball well.
We're going to need everybody to show up for this ballgame tomorrow. It's going to be extremely competitive. Drake is very well coached. They're patient at the offensive end. As soon as you relax, the person you're guarding is going to back cut you, step out for a three, just really impress.
So we're going to need our fours and fives to be able to defend on the three-point line tomorrow. So I really think those two will have to be key for us.
Q. Big picture on the women's tournament, the change in the format with two regional sites in the Sweet 16. You've been through longs runs in these tournaments. What do you think of those changes and the impact you see positive, negative, indifferent, in terms of your fans, television, any of it?
JEFF WALZ: What we're trying to do in the NCAA is grow those regionals. I could be wrong, but we're holding a men's regional at the Yum! Center, is that right? And it wouldn't surprise me if it's basically soldout already before they even know what teams are going. Of course you have to hold your blocks for the four teams, but in women's basketball, that's just not being done.
So by putting it in two regionals, I think it's going to hopefully help enhance the player experience by the fan experience. I've been on record saying it. I've always been a huge fan of sending the Sweet 16 to Vegas or just have one spot. I don't care where it is. Have one, but you want to have a destination spot. I've always said that.
I think there's, what, six conference tournaments now that are playing their championship in Vegas. Just if your team loses, there's still something to do. There's places to go. There's entertainment. Wherever it might be.
But even as a coach, you're always hoping to be playing in a Sweet 16 and hopefully a Final Four, I book my tickets and say, hey, wherever the Sweet 16, if they're all in one spot, I'd book it to go. Now, hopefully I can get a credit because I'm playing in it, but if we're not, you get a chance to go and you're watching great basketball games for four days.
So I think it's a good idea, and I'm hoping Seattle and Greenville attract and do very well. I know with South Carolina being in Greenville, they'll bring a huge crowd for their games, and it won't surprise me if a lot of those fans are also going to other games, which is, I think, that's your draw. That's what you're trying to do is get basketball fans to go watch basketball games.
And I think it's a huge -- I mean, I think the other thing that's helped our game for this year is the lines. We can't bet on it. We're not allowed to bet on it. But the excitement that it brings, just the casual fan -- you know, you all follow Barstool Sports on Twitter. Everybody does. That Corpus Christi game, the guy hits it -- he's dribbling out, dribbling out, puts up a three and bangs it, it covered the line. The whole place is going crazy.
I just think for women's basketball there's more interest now for the casual fan. So I think that's a big thing. Obviously we can't bet on it or anything like that, we all know that, but if you're asking what can enhance our game, that little thing right there I think has already. So I think that's a key component.
The more that the casual viewer can be engaged with the women's basketball, the better because, once you get them watching -- for 16 years here, when I got to Louisville, we averaged about 2,500 fans a night. I'd go speak all around town, and I'd just -- they'd be like how much, what's your speaking fee? I go, there is none. I just want you to come to a game. Just come to a game one time. You don't like it, don't come back.
And the beautiful thing now in our Yum! Center, we do sell some beverages. So I just say, just come. You don't like it, have two beers, and then go home. But the amount of people that come back after watching a game because they're like, wow, this is the first women's basketball game I've been to. I'm just so impressed with the athleticism, the talent, the quality of play.
And now we lead our league in attendance in women's basketball, and we're sixth in our league, if you count men's basketball. So we outdraw ten of the men's basketball teams in the ACC, which I think is pretty impressive. And that's because we just get out there. We're promoting our product, and then our players do a great job.
I may have given you more than you wanted, but I'm not stuttering much if I keep talking.
Q. Talking about the attendance, you don't have the home court this year for these two rounds. I asked your players about that. Just to kind of bring it back to this tournament and this team playing on the road for these first two rounds, not being in front of those home fans, what tells you this team can fight through basically just being on the road for this whole tournament?
JEFF WALZ: You're really on the road, true road game, possibly one game. Our game tomorrow night is a neutral site game. So Drake's going to have the same issues we have. You aren't playing at home. Whoever wins that game tomorrow, and if Texas wins, there's your one true road game. We play well on the road. I've been pleased. It's a one possession game at Virginia Tech. We lose in overtime at Notre Dame.
So I'm encouraged with how we play. Sure, we'd love to be playing at home, but I've seen some toughness from this team that gives me confidence that tomorrow night it's not going to be something where our players are looking around, man, I wish we were playing at home. I wish we had our fans here. We will have some here, but obviously it's not a home court advantage.
Throughout this tournament, you're really one true road game.
Thank you very much for your time.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations again for you and your team qualifying and good luck tomorrow night against Drake.
JEFF WALZ: I appreciate it. I just would like to state I wish Vick would have done a better job with the weather. It's the one thing I ask from him, he can't even bring that.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports