March 18, 2023
Storrs, Connecticut, USA
Postgame Media Conference
UConn - 95, University of Vermont - 52
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with an opening statement and then take questions for the student athletes.
GENO AURIEMMA: Thank you. The NCAA tournament does a lot to people. It brings out the best in some people, brings out the worst in some people. That's why it's so exciting, I think, to find out which teams are going to be playing their best and which teams are going to struggle.
So you always worry about that going into the first -- especially the first game. You're always worried about that. It doesn't matter who the opponent is, you know? It doesn't matter what seed you are or they are. So it was really gratifying today to see us come out and start the way we did and compete with the energy that we had and the focus that we had. And then get, you know, amazing performances from Aaliyah and Dorka. I just think that's a great way to start. Hopefully we can build on that Monday night.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student athletes.
Q. Aaliyah, career high today. At what point do you realize that the other team doesn't have an answer for you and how do you respond when you figure that out?
AALIYAH EDWARDS: I think that we started the game off really well and we hit 'em with the first punch. I think that probably from the jump ball, I knew personally, individually, that I would be able to dominate inside, and I think Dorka had her own too. I think that we just flowed together as a team. I think we had a lot of assists as well throughout the whole game. I think that we just capitalized on every possession that we could.
Q. Aaliyah, can you walk us through that moment in the first quarter when you scored the and one layup on the fast break and dapped up the fans in the student section?
AALIYAH EDWARDS: It was nice. I was kind of falling into the crowd anyway, so I felt the energy and, yeah, the love from the student section. You know, we're playing in Gampel, it's the first game here, and you could feel the energy, feel the love from that atmosphere. I think that everyone on the team loves that energy from them, and we have the best fans in the world. So it was a great moment.
Q. You were named a third-team All-American earlier this week. What was your reaction to getting that honor? And where is one part of your game that you want to see improve even more?
AALIYAH EDWARDS: Yeah, like, it's kind of funny, like, All-Canadian, All-American, it's almost like a dual citizenship in a way. (Laughing.) But, no, I'm just honored to kind of be up there with Paige winning it and like Napheesa and other alumni who have been represented. I'm just grateful to be a part of that and put the name out for UConn.
Q. This is now the second year that college athletes can profit off of NIL, but in those two years, there's been no change to the rules that have largely excluded international players like yourselves from benefiting in the same way. I'm just wondering, what are your thoughts on the lack of progress or any change to the rules in that time? Are you at all disheartened or discouraged to see it, given the on-court success that you and your international teammates have had this year with the fact that you can't really capitalize on it in the same way that domestic players can?
DORKA JUHĂSZ: I would just say, as I can't speak for all of our international students, that that's not something that is super important for us. Obviously, just seeing that our teammates are so successful at it, obviously when the NIL started, we were kind of hoping that we're going to be included. And we know that UConn is always working for us and they're trying to fight for change. They say it's going to come -- who knows when, but I know that they're fighting for us. They're trying to find ways for us to capitalize on that.
But as for that, we came here to play basketball and get our education, and that would just be an extra. But hopefully for obviously not me, but for the future international student athletes that come to the United States that hopefully they can find a way for them to capitalize in some ways, you know.
Q. Aaliyah, Dorka has said a lot of nice stuff about you lately, like when you were MVP of the Big East tournament. I was wondering if you could say what it's like to have her as a front-court duo. And, like you said, you both get a lot of assists and you've been dominating in the paint lately, and I was wondering what you could say about Dorka.
AALIYAH EDWARDS: Yeah, I would say about D, she's very humble off the court, but once you get on the court, she's fierce, and I don't think that anyone should take that lightly. She's a force inside and outside. I think that as a team we love that about her because she's unpredictable in that way because she can capitalize down low, but also on the perimeter, she can knock in that three that everyone knows that she can.
So I'm grateful to be playing with her because if I'm not open, I know that she's going to hit that high-low and knock in that shot. I think that with last year, when she wasn't playing in the tournament towards the end, it's great that she's back and she's healthy, and I think that she's brought a lot to us and a lot to me, leadership-wise, because she is a vocal leader for us and for me personally, and I look up to her and I think that she's going to do great things when she leaves here, and I'm grateful to be spending this last year with her.
Q. Can you talk about the spark that Caroline gave you off the bench today? She had 12 points, 4-4 from the floor.
DORKA JUHĂSZ: Yeah, she's been great. As hard of a season that she has, a lot of ups and downs and just going through a concussion protocol, it's something that you can't really force. For her, I think it was super hard to kind of just keep waiting, like hopefully the time comes when she's able to play.
But, you know, with the headaches and a lot of symptoms, like, she just -- there was a lot of ups and downs for her. So it's amazing to see her go out there and getting more comfortable with contact and knocking down shots. Obviously, her being on the perimeter it just gives a lot of space. You know, her, Azzi, Lou, just spacing out court, like, there's a lot more paint points, not just for post players, but for them driving.
She can score a lot of different ways and it was just great to see her just being confident, driving the ball, passing, and she had an amazing pass to me, and I was like, oh, I didn't even know you have that. But she's been amazing. We're very happy for her because we know how hard it is. It's not just like a rolled ankle that you can play through. It's your head, it's your brain.
So it's just -- we're just happy to have her back and hopefully she keeps getting more comfortable and more confident and she's going to be great for us throughout this tournament.
Q. What was your reaction seeing Nesh's block there at the end? And how does it help to have 10 available players during the tournament?
AALIYAH EDWARDS: I think we were like we need to replay that and look that up on big screen. So I think that we were all just happy for Nesh because she's a hard worker and when she makes big plays like that, she doesn't really take much credit for it, but we make it known that she did a good job.
DORKA JUHĂSZ: What I would just like to add, that she knows if she makes some mistakes, you could see that she's the first one running back and trying to steal the ball or do like a play like that. I think she's been working a lot. And it's hard to come to UConn as a freshman, I can imagine, you know, just getting adjusted and seeing her getting more comfortable, learning from her guards, and just listening. I think she's been tremendous. Her growth has been like tremendous and just excited when she's getting into the game. She's like calm, you know. And her personality is just crazy. If you see her off the court, it's just always laughing, joking around, and the minute she's on the court, she has kind of like this straight face.
So we're super happy for her. Just having obviously a 10-player rotation, it's been great for us, just like letting us be a little bit more aggressive, pass a lot, and that's just why we want to be on defense.
Q. To build off that question, you guys pressed a little bit earlier today and just were able to get kind of out there defensively. So being able to finally be at the healthiest you guys have been this season, how does that help defensively do what you guys want to do longer term?
AALIYAH EDWARDS: It helps us to be more disruptive. I think Coach said it best to us before the game, like, we want to force them to make plays and not just run their plays. So I think that going to that mentality throughout the whole tournament and especially for Monday, I think that our defense today helped us with our transition and it leads to that and leads to us getting buckets. So just going off that same wave, I think that will be good.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, ladies. We'll take questions for coach.
Q. Playing a lot of big schools, I don't know how much you knew about Vermont coming in, but did you have a plan or some of the players you were looking at to really stop early on, as you did?
GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah, it's impossible for us to have a scouting report on every single team in the country. But then once the brackets are announced, then you got a couple days to find out as much as you can. All the films that we watched two things struck me about their team. One, defensively they have a game plan, they have their rotations down, they know how they want to play. They played true to that for the last 17 or whatever games that they won in a row.
Offensively they run their stuff and they execute their stuff and they shoot -- I mean, 32 threes is a lot. But I don't think any of 'em were out of the offense, out of the ordinary, or desperation, just that's the shots that they wanted. I just like how well organized they are and how well they run their stuff on both ends of the floor and how well coached they are.
And our preparation for Vermont wasn't any different than it will be for whoever we play Monday night, whether we play Villanova or we play Texas, it's the same, just different people.
Q. Aaliyah had as many points in that first quarter as Vermont did as an entire team. Just how did she set the tone for you guys early and just what are your thoughts on her dominant performance today?
GENO AURIEMMA: One of the things we tried to get across was whatever you want to happen on the offensive end it can't start when you cross half court. It's got to begin when you are on the defensive end and how hard you're willing to work on the defensive end to create those opportunities, to create those transition opportunities, to create sprinting down the floor and Nika pushing it, the mismatches that we want.
And I thought our defense did exactly that. When we got down to the other end, I saw Aaliyah was active. Sometimes it's hard to find people. But it wasn't easy to find Aaliyah today because she was constantly moving, she was constantly involved. When the shot went up, there were I don't know how many opportunities that she created for us because she was so aggressive on the offensive boards.
When she's making that mid-range jump shot, it just changes how our team has to be defended. So it's one of the better games. I thought that first half that she played, I thought was one of the better halves of basketball that I've seen her play since she's been at Connecticut.
Q. Aubrey only played six minutes today. It kind of looked like she got the wind knocked out of her and didn't check back into the game after she came out.
GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah, Aubrey's been battling that back issue and today it was acting up a little bit. So she got some work done at halftime, but I didn't like the way she looked. I mean, I felt like we were going to win the game and there was no sense of urgency to put her in and see if we can get her more rest for Monday. And Lou was running back on defense, and I don't know whether she tripped over somebody or just tweaked something, but when she fell down, she kind of grimaced, and same thing, I didn't want to take any chances.
Q. Since you've had 10 players the last four games, it seems to have opened things up for Aaliyah and Dorka down low. How have they taken advantage of -- even though the kids who have come back have not played up to pre-injury form yet, how has the team taken advantage of just having the bodies out there and being able to spread the offense?
GENO AURIEMMA: It was really hard in February especially. They were constantly double-teamed and triple-teamed. And that's not to say that they weren't today a bunch of times as well, because it happened today. It just can't happen as often.
Having some of the wing players that we have now, when the defense runs back, they have to run wide. And when we didn't have them, the defense just ran back into the lane. So there was no room for Aaliyah or Dorka to do anything. It was a real slog, and that's why the games were played the way they were played a lot of times.
So we couldn't do as much defensively and we couldn't do as much offensively. Now you see the difference and the results are what they are. I'm just glad it's happening. It only took five months.
Q. Similar to the question that I had for your players. We're in the second year of the NIL era and March Madness. In that time, there's been no change to the rules, much less really any clarification to what the rules are for international players. I'm just wondering, what are your thoughts on that issue and the lack of change that we have seen on that front and with that, the disparities it sort of created within your own team where your international players have had a really prominent role this year, but they can't necessarily take advantage or capitalize on that with NIL when they're on the biggest stage in March like a domestic player can?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, college basketball, the NCAA, has absolutely nothing to do with that rule. That's a federal law that applies to any kid that goes to college or any kid that comes to this country on a student visa. So it's a lot bigger than anybody playing basketball.
You know, there's student visas, which are fairly easy to obtain, and there's work visas to come to America, which are very difficult to obtain. So the international players, I think like Dorka said, they come here to play basketball, and they come here to get an education. These are words right out of her mouth. So if you're a kid overseas and you're coming here for the NIL, stay home and sign a pro contract.
And there's always going to be a disparity on your team. There's a disparity between Paige and Azzi and every other American kid on the team. The disparity is the guys who have the most people wanting them are going to be the ones that benefit the most. You just have to figure out how to be in that group.
But we have no control over the NIL thing when it comes to international students. Will that ever even be addressed? I doubt it. So they can take advantage of it. They just can't do it while they're in the United States. So if they're in Canada or if they're in some other country, while they're playing for us, they can take advantage of all those things.
Q. A program like Vermont's, they have been in the past 20-loss seasons and they're just finally getting their footing underneath them. This was their first tournament appearance in 13 years and going up against a program that you run is a tremendous accomplishment for them. What do you see in their program that will allow them to continue to be successful moving forward or what is something that they need to do to get themselves to the next level?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, I think the NCAA has to be a little more creative and stop sending 'em here. I think the last time they made the tournament they were here. So, you know, it's close by. Well, there's a lot of other schools that were close by, you know? So I think they deserve better. The league that they're in is probably going to dictate how high their ceiling is, just like it is for your men's team, right?
That doesn't mean, though, that they can't become a consistent NCAA tournament team, which I think if you're playing in a one-bid league, it's hard as hell, okay? And I've been on the rampage about it. And just the fact that they have a tournament, it's stupid, because Vermont next year could go undefeated, lose in the semifinals or the finals of their tournament, and they won't get a bid.
So their ceiling is they need to win the tournament every year. Can they do that? Absolutely. It's a great school. They have access to a lot of kids, international or American kids, and I think their coaching staff is tremendous. I really do. I just think they have a sense of who they are, what they are and what they want to be and what they can do and what they can't do, and they don't try to do things they can't do. And they're very, very good at the things that they can do. So when have you that going for you, you can go pretty far.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, coach.
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