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March 23, 2023

Jeff Walz

Olivia Cochran

Hailey Van Lith

Mykasa Robinson

Seattle, Washington, USA

Climate Pledge Arena

Louisville Cardinals

Sweet 16 Pregame Media Conference

THE MODERATOR: We'll get started. Good afternoon. If you could give us an opening statement and then we'll open it up to questions.

JEFF WALZ: First of all, I would like to say I'm impressed with how we've got these taped down. In case Doug would ask a dumb question, I can't pick it up and throw it at you. You're safe. (Laughing.) That's good.

No, I would like to just say thank you to the NCAA, the Committee, everyone, our host. It's been a simple transition from going from Austin to here. Our players have enjoyed it. Just everything has been first class. We're looking forward to another opportunity to compete tomorrow night against a very good Ole Miss basketball team.

THE MODERATOR: All right. Questions?

Q. There seems to be narrative of these upsets in this region with the 5, 6, and 8 advancing. But you know that they're all Power 5 schools here, so this isn't like a Cinderella story of a Mid Major making it this far. Is that something that you guys think? I mean, like, you've played in a very good conference. The team you're playing against plays in a very good conference. Like, this is not a Cinderella story matching the men's side right now with some of the 10, 11 seeds.

JEFF WALZ: You aren't advancing to this time of the year if you're not a good basketball team. Ole Miss plays in a great league against great teams night-in and night-out. Same thing as we do. So would I consider to be a huge upsets that Ole Miss is here and we are here? No. You can just go back and look at their games that they played throughout the year. They played South Carolina to overtime, very competitive games in all the ones that they got beat in the SEC. Same thing with us. So am I completely shocked? No. I'm expecting a great game tomorrow night.

Q. Just wondering when Hailey first came on your radar and what memories you have of coming out to the state and to Cashmere for recruiting?

JEFF WALZ: Oh, she's been playing on a national scene for a long time in travel ball and things like that, so we have known about her for a long time, probably back to her freshman year, 8th grade year, and just followed her as she played.

Yeah, I made quite a few trips over the pass. A few trips I couldn't figure out why all the semis were pulled over. It just opened things up for me as the snow was coming down to make a quick trip.

I can remember going out to watch her play and as soon as the game would start, I would put the Seatac Airport into my directions, hit go, and I would sit there and watch the game because it kept counting down, it would tell me when your estimated arrival time was. And I told her and her family, it's like, Hey, as soon as it gets to 11:30, I've got to go, even if the game's not over, so I can catch my redeye flight back home.

So it was five flights of getting to the airport at 11:30. There's no bags to check in. You just go straight, jump on, and fly back home so you're back for practice the next morning. But it was definitely worth it. She's not just a great player. She's a great person. Her family is so supportive of her. They have been out several times to watch her play this season. It just worked out. It was great that we actually got put into the Seattle region, able to go down to Austin and win two, and get the opportunity for her to play back here in front of a lot of friends and family.

Q. This is a general question. You look around the Sweet 16 right now, a lot of teams have had transfers play really important roles to get to this point. For you personally and then also for the sport, like how do you think the transfer portal has impacted how you have constructed your own roster and how do you think it's kind of influenced how other coaches around the league have constructed their own programs?

JEFF WALZ: Well, I think everybody -- I mean, we had transfers going back to Kianna Smith and Liz Dixon. So for us, I think the last four years or so we have had eight. I still think a lot of it, and it's getting blown out of proportion, is COVID. I think once the COVID -- the free COVID year is over, I think you'll see less transfers, just because we have got Kasa, who is coming up here that, you know, she graduated. She did everything I asked her to do, and I sat in the office with her after last year's run to the Final Four, and I was like, Hey, you've got one more year and if you want to look someplace else, because you've done everything I asked you to do when I recruited you, you graduated, you played four years, she was a phenomenal person. But if you want to look someplace else, I respect that. I'll help you find it. But she wanted to stay.

So I think there are a lot of players who do their four years and all of a sudden you're getting a free year. So why not try something new. I think once those are finished, and I think we got one more round of it, I really truly believe you're going to see less of it. All three of mine that are transfers for this year are COVID kids. They all graduated from their institution before they came here. Are there going to be transfers? Of course. Do we look at it as a way to fill needs? Yes. Do we still recruit high school kids? Of course we do. We just didn't sign one for this incoming year. I mean, it happens. You try to hit a home run or two and you strike out.

Then the great thing about it is, because of the portal, it's not as much of a panic, you know, because they're going into the portal. Some you want to go in and some you don't. See, it works both ways. The thing that I think is scary is you're technically not supposed to have conversations with someone, where in the old days kids knew where they were going before they even said they were going to transfer. I mean, it was done.

Now you are not supposed to do that. I think there are some players -- because when we looked at it, like, say, I think it was maybe six days ago, there were over a thousand players in the portal and only 50 that averaged over 10 points a game. So before I put my name in the portal, I would make sure I was wanted because there are going to be players who will not end up with a scholarship.

And the beautiful thing about it for us coaches too is when you go into the portal, I don't have to have you back. It is, hey, this is -- we're breaking up, you know? And that's part of it. Now, we have had kids in the past who have gone on to other places and had great careers, who just wanted more playing time, wanted the opportunity, and you're playing behind an Asia Durr, you're playing behind a Dana Evans, and they just wanted the opportunity to play more.

So those players I'm like, Hey, let's find a place and if you don't, you've still got this as home. But, yeah, I mean, everybody is in the portal in terms of coaching. I mean, there's Selection Sunday and Portal Monday. That's the way it's broken out.

Q. For those who might not have seen Hailey play a ton since she got to your program but kind of remember what she did in high school around here, where are the areas you've seen her grow the most as a player since she got into your program, maybe beyond the scoring aspect?

JEFF WALZ: Well, she's really grown in just the area of being a student of the game. She's always loved the game. She's always studied it. But I think now she's really taking what she's learning, because in high school, she scored. I mean, she scored the basketball at will. And now you get to this stage and you're playing against some pretty darn good players. You've got to be able to -- as the game is developing, say, okay, here's what move is working, here's what's not. They're double-teaming me off of ball screens. I've got to get off the ball and get it back on the weak side.

I think those are the areas that she's really put the work into to make sure it's like, all right, I see what is going to benefit me and what's going to benefit the team. I was really impressed with the way she's played this past month, especially in our Texas game when she goes 8-15 from the field. I mean, she was very patient. She passed the ball extremely well if they ran two at her. She got the ball to the person who was open. So I really think she's grown and just learned -- learning and enjoying playing with other great players as well because now the load can be taken off of you. But she's got the ability, obviously, to still score the basketball. It's pretty fun to watch.

Q. You mentioned these other teams in the region are battle-tested in the regular season, but they haven't necessarily -- you know, Colorado and Ole Miss, experienced this setting this week and playing in a bigger arena. Is that an advantage do you think for you and Iowa?

JEFF WALZ: No, I don't -- once the ball, once you start playing, you're just playing basketball. They played in the SEC tournament the first two games, at Stanford, so they have played in hostile environments and big crowds. So I'm not -- I would never stay that that's an advantage. Going out for warmups, I've got kids that -- you know, Chrislyn Carr, the first time she's ever played in the tournament was this past weekend. You know, Morgan Jones had won one NCAA tournament game in her career until this year.

So we have players also that this is new, but once you start playing, I don't think it really has that big of an impact. I wish I could say it did.

Q. I was curious, you know, early in the season you guys just were not playing very well, didn't look great. You have really peaked at the right time. Is there another Louisville team in your time of being there that you can compare this to in terms of like putting it together at the right time?

JEFF WALZ: Well, I tell people this all the time. Everybody is like, oh, you struggled early. We played a very difficult schedule, probably too difficult to start the year. When we had the three transfers, we were trying to get players adjusted to new roles. I mean, we lose to Gonzaga in overtime down in the Bahamas, to South Dakota State, Ohio State. I mean, it's not like we were just getting beat by some bad teams.

But I thought the schedule ended up helping us as we learned to get tougher and finish out games because the majority of those games we had leads in. We played nine teams and lost 11 games, and I think eight of 'em advanced to the NCAA tournament this year, and the ninth played in the NIT. So we had a schedule that was very competitive, but it's helped us.

Then you go back -- we just -- as I said after our Texas game, we don't have the answers for everything, and hard work's not going to guarantee you success, but it sure at least gives you a fighting chance. And we figure out a way to play our best basketball this time of the year because it's all anybody talks about. It's the one thing about our profession that's challenging. You can have an unbelievable regular season, a great conference tournament, and you lose in the first round and nobody cares. It's like, oh, I know y'all won the league, but golly, you lost in the second round, you lost in the first round.

And March is what makes this game so exciting. So I don't know if there's another team, per se. Our 2013 team coming in as a 5 seed, I mean, it could be comparable, but I can't really sit there and tell you -- I mean, we weren't pre-season ranked top 5 in our 2013 team as we were with this team.

But I've always -- I vote on the panel of coaches for USA Today top 25 and I've always said, you shouldn't have pre-season top 25, just wait until three weeks in and then start voting because then you really get to tell who is good. Because in women's basketball -- even on the men's side, if you can just win enough games, if you start off in the top 10, you can stay in the poll for an entire season if you can just win enough games.

Now, for us, we lost too many in a row, so then we drop out. But you wait until three weeks have gone by and then do your first top 25 poll, and I think you'll have a better idea of really who is in your top 25.

Q. This Ole Miss defense has done a really good job of making teams look unrecognizable, kept Gonzaga to basically no three-point shooting, kept Stanford's shooting very low. How do you keep your team's identity when they're playing a team against this?

JEFF WALZ: Well, I think the good thing about it is I'm not sure what our identity is. So if we don't know it, I'm not sure they know it. We have games we shoot the three well, we have games between. We have games we'll score in the post. We can shoot some pullup jumpers. You've just got to be flexible. You've got to be able to adapt and adjust and figure out, okay, if they're not allowing you to score this way, how can we score the basketball.

We have taken a lot of pride here that when someone will always ask me, what's your philosophy, what's your philosophy, what kind of offense do you like to run, what do you do, and our philosophy is we try to win. So if we got to play zone, we play zone. If we need to play man, we play man. If we need to run sets, we run sets. So we'll have to adjust tomorrow. We'll figure out -- try and figure out what they're trying to do to stop us and then adjust to it. If our plan A doesn't work, we'll go to plan B. If plan B doesn't work, we'll go to C. Then if we got to go to D, then we'll just start praying.

Q. Some of the team was able to explore Seattle a little bit earlier today. Have you been able to do anything other than go back and forth from SeaTac? And then the more serious side of things, while you're in Seattle, is there anything that you hope or anticipate is going to be a key takeaway for the players and the program? Is it maybe some identity-finding or something else?

JEFF WALZ: For myself -- we actually came out here last year and played Washington, and we stayed for about four or five days. We made it a trip around the Thanksgiving break. So most of the team from last year, we did the Space Needle and walked down on the pier. We're staying right down there on the water, so it's been great. It's been fun. I've been able to take my wife out to eat. We had a nice meal last night. We enjoyed a walk at about 5:30 in the morning up to the marketplace. You know, the time change, so we're up and at it.

So, yeah, it's been fun. We encourage our players to do that too. It's one of the things we always talk about is, in college athletics, you play a game and it's you fly in the night before the game, you play the game, you fly back home after the game, and a lot of times players don't get the opportunity to even experience where they are. So we do try and do that as much as we can where they're able to learn and explore and maybe this is a place where one of 'em gets drafted to to come play professionally, and they're like, hey, I really like Seattle. So we try to do our best.

And then for our team, it's a great group. I have not had any issues or any problems this entire season. We've lost more games than what we're used to, but at the same time, if you go back and look at 'em, our middle game when we played there, they just whooped our tail, you know, from start to finish. Every other game, we have led at some point in time, and they have been great games. So I think now we're trying to finally put things together and understand there's highs and lows during games and you can't get too high and you can't get too low. I've just been really impressed with how we've handled things the last month.

THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, Coach. We appreciate your time.


THE MODERATOR: We'll begin with questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Hailey, how cool was it when you realized that you were going to be coming to Seattle? And what kind of contingent will you have from the Cashmere-Wenatchee area?

HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, I knew when they put out the regional locations that we had a chance to end up in Seattle, and it just ended up working out. I'm really, really excited to play in front of my hometown and people that I grew up around. I know that there's going to be a lot of people from Wenatchee and Cashmere, all type of different support. So I'm hoping that it feels like a home game here for us.

But, no, I'm super excited. I haven't got to play in front of a lot of family in a while, so it's going to be a special moment.

Q. Hailey, you won so much here at the high school level. I'm wondering if never winning a state championship, though, is adding some motivation now that you're back here with a chance to win a championship this year.

HAILEY VAN LITH: No. High school is a totally different level. College means a lot more. So it's a more elite level one a national stage. Like, I did my best in high school to win a championship. It didn't happen for me. I do not feel sad about it. I don't regret it. I like the school that I played for. I haven't really thought about it ever since I got in college. So I want to win college here.

Q. For all three of you, you just came off of practice, walking into Climate Pledge Arena onto the court where four-time WNBA Champions Seattle Storm play. How did it feel walking into the arena, getting on to the court for your first practice?

MYKASA ROBINSON: It was awesome. It's something very humbling, something that is so surreal. Being from a small town you get to see these types of things traveling with basketball. So I'm very grateful.

OLIVIA COCHRAN: Definitely. It was awesome. The lights were bright. It was cold. I had to warm up and get all my air balls out. So I feel great. I'm just ready for tomorrow. Yeah, get 'em all out.

HAILEY VAN LITH: I would say it's a really nice facility. I think it's nice to see as a college player, knowing that we have this potentially waiting for us at the next level, and to see how much Seattle values its WNBA team here is really special. So it was really cool, just even the locker rooms and all that, like, we were like, oh, my God, like we were waving our hand up in the sliding door. It was so awesome. So, yeah, this is a special place. So we can't wait to get a chance to play.

Q. I'm sure y'all have watched plenty of games and footage of Ole Miss, and maybe that Stanford one. What do you see out of them that may be a challenge and what's the mindset going into the game?

OLIVIA COCHRAN: They're very athletic, so I feel like execution is a big part of our game tomorrow night. We have to get big on the boards, we have to rebound very well, and just run our plays.

Q. Was there a key game this year that kind of set the tone, kind of maybe gave you a spark to get this far? Was it a come-from-behind win, maybe it was a loss, that was a wake-up call? Was there a game like that for this team?

OLIVIA COCHRAN: Yeah, we just got asked this question. Like Hailey said, we played Notre Dame three times this year and our first loss to them was at Notre Dame. We went into overtime in that game and we played a full 45 minutes and even though we lost, I feel like that sparked us to be like, oh, yeah, we can go far and we can do this. I feel like that's what, that's been on our mind ever since.

Q. Coming off that Ole Miss question, you were busy preparing for a game of your own at that point, but did any of you see the game that they beat Stanford or at least the coverage of it?

HAILEY VAN LITH: Yes. I think we all watched it. It was a great game to watch. It was a great basketball game. We weren't necessarily scouting at that time because we still had to focus on Texas. But we were just enjoying watching the game. They're a talented team with a lot of athletes. So it's going to be a fun matchup.

Q. Hailey, for those who haven't watched you a lot since you were playing in high school here, how are you different as a player maybe in areas other than scoring than you were when you were in high school at Cashmere?

HAILEY VAN LITH: I mean, I've gotten a lot better at scoring. I would say I'm a more balanced scorer. I can score at all three levels a lot more efficiently than I could in high school. But I mean, high school is different. I'm trying to compare, like in high school, it's a different game. But, I don't know, I think just physicality. How I play, I defend a lot of different positions. Like sometimes I guard a 4. Sometimes I guard the point guard. And I've just, since I've gotten in college, I've kind of learned how to do that and how to use my skill set to guard those positions. So I think I have a lot higher IQ. I know how to play with other good players and get them shots. So, yeah, overall, like I think I've just evolved in every aspect.

Q. Jeff mentioned earlier his trips to come out and see you play and then racing back to SeaTac to catch a red eye to Louisville. What do you remember from those visits and what did it mean to have that sorts of effort to come out here to recruit you in person?

HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, I know the one time he, like there was a snowstorm and the pass closed and he was trying to drive over the pass. And he kept sending me pictures and like you couldn't see anything out of the window. But, no, it really meant a lot to me. I'm the type of person who values like connection and if I feel like you care about me, like I'm willing to work really hard for you. So him doing that, he was one of the only coaches who put in that much effort and it meant a lot to me because I really want to play for someone who thinks I'm good and believes in me. So that type of effort showed me that he's one of 'em.

Q. Hailey, were you surprised how much attention that handshake line incident drew, with people kind of trying to read your lips and everything and did that kind of show kind of the fire and intensity that you play with and have?

HAILEY VAN LITH: I wasn't surprised, because it's women's basketball and people treat us differently all the time. I mean that happens in the NBA game every single day. But just because it was women's basketball, like they're going to drag it out and it's a whole deal. But, you know, like it really, like wasn't a big deal and people are trying to stretch.

I've moved on from it. I'm not on social media, so I don't know what people are saying. I don't really, particularly, am worried about it. But I think if you know me and you watched me, like that actually was a very calm moment for me. So I think that people, I think that people know that I'm a lot more intense than that and I was actually very calm in that moment. (Laughing.)

Q. Maybe start with Olivia, but for all three of you, if you're willing to share. Do you have any personal goals for the game that you're hoping, some stats or anything that you would like to accomplish, tangible or intangible?

OLIVIA COCHRAN: Not really. I'm just going to play for my teammates and execute my role the best I can. Just go out there and give it my all, leave it all on the court.

HAILEY VAN LITH: I would say for me I kind of look at percentages and efficiency for me, how efficient can I play. I think I need to shoot the ball efficiently, 50 percent at least from whatever, the three, the field. Also rebounding. For us to be successful I have to step up and I have to rebound. I think the last two games I only got three, that's way under my average, and to compete against a team like Ole Miss I'm definitely going to have to step up and get on the boards. So, yeah, those I would say are the stats that I pay attention to.

MYKASA ROBINSON: For me, my career is coming close to an end so I just think going out there and having a good time, making sure I just absorb and take in every moment I have with this team.

THE MODERATOR: All right, ladies, thank you so much. Best of luck this week.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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