March 17, 2023
Durham, North Carolina, USA
Cameron Indoor Stadium
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Today we have Courtney Whitson and Alexis Whittington from Middle Tennessee State. We will open up questions to the student-athletes.
Q. I heard on the radio the other day that your school sold out their allotment. Are you guys excited to see some Blue Raider fans down here?
THE MODERATOR: Start this with Alexis, please.
ALEXIS WHITTINGTON: Yes, very excited. They've supported us all season, so it's great that they are coming down here to support us as well.
COURTNEY WHITSON: Yeah. I mean, it's going to be a great atmosphere for us. Obviously it's a historic place, but with our fans with it, it will make it even better, so...
Q. Courtney, from what I have heard you have some family from North Carolina that are going to be in attendance to watch you play. Do you know when the last time some of those people may have seen you play in person ?
COURTNEY WHITSON: It's been a while. A long time. Especially at a point in my career like this it's going to be an honor to have them come back and watch.
It's only about four hours from my house, so we'll be bringing a bunch of people from Kingsport up here. We're excited. It's what we dream of.
Q. Just in general for both of y'all, y'all were on the team that made it to the tournament in 2021. I talked to you all this week about how that was a COVID tournament. You all had to be spread out, kept in your rooms pretty much the whole time. What's it been like to have the full experience early on so far and get to be a part of it?
ALEXIS WHITTINGTON: It's very fun. Like, I'm glad I got to experience it before I left because we didn't get the full experience, you know, last time. So this time coming in, I was, like, wow, really what is it? It's really my first time to experience everything, all of us. This is actually really cool. So I'm glad I got to participate in it.
COURTNEY WHITSON: Yeah. I'm super happy for Lex. There's no other way I would want her to go out than getting to experience something like this and do it with her. When we were in it last time, it was the COVID bubbles and stuff like that, so it was nothing like this, so yeah.
Q. What are your impressions of Colorado as you've been able to study them this week and learn about them?
THE MODERATOR: Start with Courtney, please.
COURTNEY WHITSON: They're a very physical basketball team. That's one of the things we've been harping on in practice is really trying to prepare for their physicality.
I think they're a really good defensive team. We've been really honing in on the mental prep for them. All respect towards them. We know that they're a good matchup for us, and we're excited to play them.
ALEXIS WHITTINGTON: Kind of what Courtney said. We've been digging deep into our scout. I feel like they've sent us tons of film. We've watched multiple games on them, and they're a really good team, but I feel like the team that's going to win is going to be the team that's most prepared, like our coaches said. So all that we can do is just keep digging into film, and we'll be ready for them.
Q. Overall, when I look at your rÃ©sumÃ©, and I have seen you guys play and your rÃ©sumÃ© is very impressive from this year. You're a top 30 team in the NET, and you're an 11 seed. Do you feel like you guys could have the ability to be somewhat of a Cinderella in this tournament?
THE MODERATOR: Start with Alexis.
ALEXIS WHITTINGTON: I do. I think the initial thought is, man, I wish we could have been seeded differently to this, but I couldn't be more happy about where we're at, like where we were seeded at as 11 seed. So can't go back and change the seeding. Can't do that.
So I think for us it's just taking one game at a time and just keep pushing forward. For us we're not looking on to more games. We're just trying to get the first win and then keep moving on.
So for us I think we can. I think we have a really good chance.
THE MODERATOR: Courtney, do you want to add something to that?
COURTNEY WHITSON: Just staying present, like she said. We can't get caught up in all the seeding and different things like that. We'll just go out there and respect all, but fear none, and play who all we have to play. Hopefully win versus who all we play, so... (laughter).
Q. Have you had the chance to think about the venue you're playing in? It's one of the more historic venues. Has that really set in? Obviously walking into practice here in a few minutes. Has that really set in to you guys?
ALEXIS WHITTINGTON: Yeah, as soon as I came out, I was just taking in the whole moment of it and the whole atmosphere because I know it's a historic place. I've watched tons of games on this court, even growing up and in college.
I'm excited to play here. I feel like it's a big stage, and I feel like that's what we wanted. So I'm happy to be here.
COURTNEY WHITSON: Yeah, same. We talk about how we see this stuff on TV, but until we're here and in the moment, it's like take a deep breath and enjoy the moment, so...
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies.
Now joining us from Middle Tennessee State is Head Coach Rick Insell in his 18th season. Questions for Coach.
Q. We talked before you all came down here about how the COVID tournament that you all went to in 2021 was a totally different experience than what it will be like when you all get down to Durham here. How has your team responded to sort of the real NCAA Tournament so far?
RICK INSELL: Well, there's not any comparison. You would have thought you were in prison during COVID. You had someone guarding your room. You had somebody guarding the floor. You had somebody guarding the elevator.
So, you know, just to be able to walk around and walk through and come into the gym, that's -- but that's just the stuff that we had to go through.
But it's always -- this is the 11th time that we've been here -- that I've been here. This is the second time for some of those young ladies there, but I wanted them to come back and experience what it was really like, and I think they'll get that right here.
Q. You guys have a very good defensive team, but so does Colorado. As you've watched them this week, what are your impressions of the Buffaloes, and how do you deal with some of the defensive pressure that they put on opponents?
RICK INSELL: They're pretty good. You know, they've got a couple of good size young ladies inside that can put the pressure and push your post up. They've got some lateral quickness on the outside.
You know, to get anywhere like this, you've got to have good guard play, and they've got good guard play. So, you know, and you look at us, and we've got the same thing.
The only ones that are here are pretty good teams. You have 64 teams, and you've probably got 40 teams that are head and shoulders above everybody else, and we fit into that, and they do too.
Q. I think you said on the radio the other day y'all have sold out your entire allotment of tickets. Are you excited to see Blue Raider fans down here?
RICK INSELL: I don't think there's any doubt about it. I might have embellished a little bit. I've been accused of doing that by my AD, but we have sold out our allotment, and I don't know what -- I feel sure that they've got some more tickets, but I expect to see a lot of Blue Raider fans here.
Duke, they're blue too, so we'll claim all them on TV.
Q. I asked your players this, and I thought they gave an interesting answer, but you mentioned kind of those top 40 teams. You guys are 28th in the NET. You get an 11 seed after the rÃ©sumÃ© you put together this season. I know seeding doesn't matter, but what did you think of that seed, and do you think you guys are truly one of those top 30, top 40 teams?
RICK INSELL: I really do think we are. I also think Colorado, they are too.
But, you know, you've got to go through that seeding process, and I have before. I've been fortunate enough that my senior women's administrator has been on the committee. I've been fortunate enough that my AD has been on the committee. So, you know, a lot of that goes with geography. Sometimes you might fit in as a 7 or 8, and they'll put you at an 11, or you might fit in as a 5 or 6, and they'll put you at a 7 or 8, you know. So we understand that process.
I thought that we possibly could fit anywhere from a 6 to 11, to be honest with you. When they came out with 11, we take it and run with it.
Q. What do you think your team learned from some of your early games against some of the our Power Five type opponents that might help you this week?
RICK INSELL: Well, I think they've got confidence. I think our team -- the one thing that I found out about this young group is they're not intimidated by anybody. Now, if you watch us warm up, if you'll look out there, you'll think maybe they might be a junior high team or maybe a small high school team, but when they throw the ball up, they get after it.
They're warriors. They have surprised me many times this year. It bothers them to play from behind. It bothers them not to play ahead. Sometimes when we get ahead, we tend to start playing the scoreboard a little bit. That happens with a lot of teams.
You know, I've been in this thing a long time. 46, 47 years. So I've experienced a lot.
But this little bunch here, they've been a joy to coach. They've been a joy to watch. You know, I never have to ask them to show up. The one thing they always give us is everything really they've got. Now, we may get out of a trace change a little bit every now and then, but we tend to get back in it and get right back into what we need to be doing.
For example, the other night against Western we didn't have a real good first quarter, but at the break we were able to get their attention a little bit and get back out, and they begin to execute. They begin to show a little discipline. Next thing you know, we've run it out. I think we scored 32 points in that second quarter to their 16.
That's just the type of team they are. They get along together on the floor. They get along together off the floor. Very seldom do you see that. I think the biggest thing that they do is they get into their scouting reports. They really work hard on their scouting reports.
We tend to take our practices as a classroom, and if you go back and look at those young ladies that I've got, right now I've got 13 of them out there. The last two semesters they've been a 3.7 just in their academic work as a cumulative, so that's pretty -- I very seldom have had that since I've been in Middle Tennessee, so they're pretty smart.
Q. Coach, I know you have a lot of experience in the NCAA Tournament. You guys haven't won a game in the tournament since 2007. What would it mean for you and for this program to win a game or two perhaps or even more?
RICK INSELL: Well, I think early on that was part of their goals. Not only to get to the NCAA Tournament, but also to take it deep into the NCAA Tournament. I think if you ask any of them that, they'll tell you that that's what they want to do.
You know, in my situation I don't think I've ever been into a game that I thought I was going to lose. I've lost some, but it wasn't because I thought I was going to lose it.
But, you know, it's big any time that you can take a program like we've got and we can go into the tournament. I mean, that's one of the things that we work on from the very get-go is the fact that -- the way we schedule if you look back how we've scheduled over the last 18 years, the first year we didn't have any control over our schedule because when Chris hired me, then the schedule was already made, but the very next year we opened up with Maryland, and they had just won the National Championship. With four minutes to go we were leading Maryland, and they had everybody back.
So I think you'll see the confidence level of our program. You can look at that as the foundation. That's kind of what we built on. It's tough sometimes for us to be able to schedule Power Five teams because, you know, they would rather get a win off somebody that they know they're going to get a win off and then go into their conference and do what they've got to do there.
In our situation at Middle we've got to do our stuff early. We've got to make our hay early and then get into the conference and just hold serve. That's what they've done this year.
You know, we had a good nonconference schedule. We lost a couple of games that we shouldn't have lost. The Mercer game and the Texas Tech game. We should have won those games, but we had a little lapse after a minute or two, and next thing you know, it happened.
But they were able to overcome that and go on a 16-game winning streak. Then all of a sudden I don't know what happened. I can't answer that. I tried to answer that to my AD and senior women's administrator and to several people around the country what happened when we made that Texas trip. I don't know, but we come right back off this Texas trip and go right back at it again.
I love this little group. I mean, stuff like that, it doesn't bother them.
Q. You mentioned that Texas Tech game. Colorado also played Texas Tech and lost to them at a narrow game that they thought they should have won. Do you watch that game a lot to kind of compare and get anything off of --
RICK INSELL: I haven't even looked back at it.
Q. Have you watched Colorado's Texas Tech game to learn anything?
RICK INSELL: We have done that, but we have not look back on our game. I'm not trying to be a smart aleck with you, but -- now, my coaches have, but I haven't. We led it for 39 minutes, and then all of a sudden, you know, maybe they wanted to get to the slot machines. I don't know. We were in Vegas when that happened, but we just lost it there.
Q. With Colorado's game against Texas Tech, is that one that maybe gives you the best idea of how you can play them because that's a common opponent?
RICK INSELL: I think they went in overtime with that game, didn't they?
Q. I believe so.
RICK INSELL: I think so. Texas Tech, really they've got a pretty good basketball team. I was a little surprised that they didn't do any better in their conference than they did because they were pretty good.
Very aggressive. Pretty good size. Had a couple of really good players. So, you know, they and us -- and I'm talking about Colorado and us both -- I think we had a shot to win those games.
Q. Coach Payne from Colorado mentioned some of the words that described your team as gritty and tough, and you kind of echo that statement. Is that a reflection of you and your coaching staff, or is there a catalyst on the team that you think kind of leads the way?
RICK INSELL: Well, I think if you look at all of our players our coaches are winners. If you'll look, they've been in this business a long time. Kim Brewton's dad has been a coach. She's kind of been brought through that. My son has been with me his whole life. Been the head coach at Ole Miss. Tom Hodges, one of our coaches, has been the head coach at Moorehead State. And then Nina Davis has been -- of course, her number has been retired at Baylor. I think she's a superstar in this business. So I've said this over and over. I think that we've got the best coaching staff in the country.
They're all winners, and they come from programs that have won. If you look at the players that they have recruited and we have recruited, they've come from championship programs. They know how to win. They've been through the fire. They've had good high school coaches. They've had good travel team coaches.
Maybe they're not the best players in the state or where they came from, but they fit our system. And our system, one of the things that we really play on is our toughness, from our training to our strength and conditioning coach all the way down.
So I would say right on with that, and I would echo that with Colorado also.
Q. You've seen women's basketball in Tennessee from the high school level to the college level, and we have a lot of teams in both tournaments this year. Talk a little bit about women's basketball in the state of Tennessee.
RICK INSELL: Well, there are several states around the country that the high school basketball and travel team basketball is at its best. One of them being Tennessee.
I will tell you this. Colorado is a good state too. I think you'll look and see some of the -- that Stanford has done a lot of recruiting in Colorado up until the last two or three years, and then if you'll look now, they've got some pretty good athletes there too. But they would be one of the states if I named ten states where basketball means something in that state.
And in the State of Tennessee unlike the State of Alabama, football is No. 1 in the state of Alabama. In the State of Tennessee men's and women's basketball is on the same level as football.
That, in turn, we get a lot of pretty good -- if you look at Jalynn Gregory, she come from a small classification, and she was the MVP of the Conference USA just last week, and a lot of people wouldn't have recruited her, but we did recruit her because we saw a little bit in her. She's tough. She's a great shooter. She has good lateral quickness, and she came from a very successful high school program with a very good high school coach.
If you look at all of our players right down the line, you'll see that. I don't know if that answers your question or not.
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