March 24, 2023
Seattle, Washington, USA
Climate Pledge Arena
Sweet 16 Postgame Media Conference
Louisville - 72, Ole Miss - 62
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with an opening statement from coach and then take questions for the student-athletes.
JEFF WALZ: First, I would like to just start off and say congratulations to Miami for their big win today. It's great to have at this point in time two of us having the opportunity to play in an Elite 8 ball game.
Then just want to congratulate Coach Yo and her team and Ole Miss on a great year. Just really proud of these three and our entire program. I mean, what an amazing ball game. Everybody was questioning could we score, could we defend. I think we showed we're not too damn bad either. I'm not even sure a few on the set at ESPN knew that we were playing tonight because the quote that I saw was -- was actually sent to me, that Ole Miss is going to be -- they have to get past Iowa. Maybe it was a slipup, but that's what was said and I didn't -- maybe they forgot that we had been to, I think -- I don't know, what is it Sweet 16s in a row, six? And now I think that this is our fifth. It's our fifth straight Elite 8. And we don't get talked about as much and I don't know if we're not as sexy. I mean, O says I am, so I don't know.
OLIVIA COCHRAN: You look good, Coach. (Laughing.)
JEFF WALZ: So I don't know what the deal is, but it would sure be nice. I think these kids deserve the respect. We come out -- you might not like the way we do things and I really don't give a damn, okay? Because I'm not going to change who I am because these kids here know I love 'em and I'll take care of them and I'll do anything for them because they're family.
But I know what their goals are. Their goals are to be able to compete to be in games like this. And I'm going to challenge 'em and I'm going to push 'em. Some days they're going to like me, some days they're not. But that's called parenting. My own kids don't like me all the time. So we're not going to change the way we do things and I'm not going to change. I stutter, I'm colorblind. So I got a lot of shit going against me, okay? And if you have never seen The King's Speech, I encourage you to watch it because when you cuss, you do not stutter, and I'm really good at that. Okay?
So I'm not going to change who I am. If you don't like it, don't listen to me. And as I tell my players here all the time, when I repeat something, I'm not like a teacher. A teacher repeats something probably trying to tell you it's going to be on the exam. It's like, hey, this is important. I repeat it because I can't help it. Okay? So it is what it is. I'm who I am. I'm not going to change. And I love every single one of them here. Some days they don't like me and that's okay. But at the end of the day, I'll go to battle for 'em.
I got an interesting e-mail that I'll have to show Van Lith here from somebody that was upset about the incident at Texas, and I ripped the guy's tail. I mean, and my wife is like, golly, we should have had Beth Burns with you. We need Beth. See, when Beth was with me for five years, she was always the one that said, I don't think we should do that right now, Jeff. I'd wait.
But I stand up for 'em and I'm always going to. But I am really, really proud of all of them. Just a wonderful group of ball players and I couldn't be prouder.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student-athletes.
Q. You've been part of this team for a while and each year going to the Elite 8 that's something that so few programs can say to do it consecutively. What is it about this program that has made this the standard? And how do you think even despite some of the ups and downs of the regular season y'all have been able to make it back to where you belong?
MYKASA ROBINSON: First, I want to say Coach Walz, he's built this and done a great job, but also just the players and the teams that have been in the past, without them we wouldn't be where we are. They have created a legacy. I'm very thankful to be a part of that.
But as far as ups and downs go, I wouldn't say we've had it too rough of a season, like everyone says. I think that it took us a little bit longer to glue and we did it at a good time and that's why we're playing like we are.
Q. It seemed like the energy of the game really changed when Merissah and Morgan came in in the first quarter. How important was that depth of your bench to getting the win today?
OLIVIA COCHRAN: Everybody is executing their role knowing what the scouting report is, knowing who to close out short on, knowing who to box out, just everybody executing their role, everybody playing together, and having each other's back.
HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, I would say what I think makes us unique is that you have to guard our bench players. Like, you have to know who they are on the scouting report. You can't just leave 'em open because they're good and they can score and they can defend and they can rebound. So we definitely have that benefit to us and hopefully we can continue to use it.
Q. Hailey, I'm curious, being in this environment back in the state of Washington, what that felt like, and also in this kind of environment, did you feel like you wanted to kind of tune that out or did you absorb it? How did you treat that atmosphere?
HAILEY VAN LITH: Obviously, it was amazing to have friends and family in the whole state out cheering for us. I'm a very focused player and everyone knows that about me. I did not -- there were no distractions before the game, to say the least. But after the game, I went and kissed all the babies and hugged all the people. So after business is done, then I celebrate, but before then, I was locked in to winning the game.
Q. I'm going to jump ahead here. You're one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, probably going to guard Caitlin. How much do you look forward to going up against a player who everyone gushes about? And how much have you watched her this year? Just, you know, she's on TV a lot.
MYKASA ROBINSON: Yeah, Caitlin, she's a great player. I'm super excited about the matchup. But I think it's really -- what we do here at Louisville it's a team defense. I don't think I shut down anyone on my own. I think it's -- I have people that are behind me that help me, that back me up, we can switch. I think we'll all do a great job of guarding her tomorrow -- or the next couple days, sorry.
Q. What does it mean for you guys moving on to the Elite 8 and also representing the ACC?
HAILEY VAN LITH: The ACC is a very competitive conference. My opinion is it's the best conference in the country. And, yeah, I mean, we knew that there were going to be ACC teams in the Elite 8. We played against 'em all year. We had to play against 'em. We know they were good.
But I think, you know, for this team, honestly, despite what the outside public thought, it was an expectation for us to be here. That's why we got it done is because we expected that of ourselves. We're not hoping or wishing for anything. We're going out there and we're executing. So we're going to keep the same standards for next game.
Q. Mykasa, you had some big buckets down the stretch and particularly emotional after that three-point play. Was that just a sense of the moment?
MYKASA ROBINSON: Yeah, you know, this is my last year here, so just getting to celebrate with this team, yeah, the emotions, they overflowed, they're flooding. It's super exciting. To be back in another Elite 8, I'm very thankful and just excited to share that with my team.
Q. Hailey, obviously your coach cares a lot about you guys hearing him sit up here and say like he's going to go to bat for you, he's going to answer e-mails when people come at you. What does that do for you and how does that help fuel you guys?
HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, you know, when I was choosing a school, that was like something that was really important to me. I needed someone who believed in me and was going to let me be me. Like, I'm competitive, I'm passionate, I love the game, and I needed a coach who was going to let me express that on the court.
He's always had my back. Throughout my three years here, he's had everyone else on this team's back. Anytime the public tries to come for us, he shuts it down. I think when you have a coach that's willing to do that for you, you'll run through a wall for them, and I think that that shows in our play.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, ladies. We'll excuse the student-athletes and we'll take questions for coach.
Q. You mentioned it in your opening statement, how you're one of the few teams to make the Elite 8 in five straight years. What does that mean for this program with the disrespect that you say you're getting from everyone around the country?
JEFF WALZ: Well, I'm not saying it's disrespect. We're just not getting respect. I mean, you know, you watch ESPN, you watch the halftime show, I'm not even sure they knew we were playing. It's always a fluke, someone played bad, instead of we played well. And that's fine. I mean, again, some people might not like the way I do things, and that's okay. Do I yell? Yeah, I yell. It's okay. My players know I love 'em. At the end of the day, that's all that matters. They want to be the best, the one -- when they come and tell me, I want to hopefully get to a Final Four, I want a chance to compete for a National Championship, I want to play professionally after college, well, that's our job is to try to make sure we give them those opportunities and push 'em.
Everybody talked about how great Ole Miss's defense was, how are you going to score against 'em, what are you going to do. I think we did okay. I think we guarded. I think we really did a heck of a job guarding. We gave up some points there in the last about a minute and a half on some back-and-forth. We don't box out, we give up a three. But I thought we did a great job. I mean, when's the last time -- you know, who has put up over 70 on them season? I think we played well.
Now, we have been playing well for the past month and a half, and we're going to continue to roll, we're going to continue to play, and we got to -- you know, we're going to enjoy this tonight. I told my staff -- they're all worried, we got to start watching film. I said, I'm not. I'm going to the bar. You know? You got to enjoy it. Life's too short.
I tell people this. You know, I got a call my first year at Maryland when we had a chance to get to the Sweet 16, Elite 8, and Final Four, from two of the best assistant coaches that I've known, and that is Roger Reding and Wyndham Weiss (Phonetic), who were at Texas Tech, and I got to know them when I was at Nebraska.
And they called and they were just like, Enjoy the moment, because if you don't, there's no guarantees you're going to get back, and then you'll forget about it. They're like, Enjoy it. And I have used that, I've told my staff that the entire time, no matter if it's been an Elite 8 or a Final Fours, because it's hard. It's hard to continue to get to where we are and win, and you have to enjoy it. Life is too short to not enjoy these types of moments.
Q. What Mykasa said about you guys coming together in the right time shouldn't feel like it took too long, how have you felt about the pace your team has come together and when do you feel like it really started to click?
JEFF WALZ: I thought -- first off, you're dealing with the portal. You've got the transfer portal. I said it -- the great thing about it is you've got your Selection Sunday and Portal Monday. Okay? That's what happens at this time of the year. And you're out here and we add Josie Williams, Chrislyn Carr and Morgan Jones. It just took longer for all of them to adjust and adapt and figure out, okay, what's going to be the best for our team. Where a year ago, we had Chelsie Hall that, boom, she fit right away at the point guard spot, then Emily Engstler at the 4. Like, we just gelled a lot faster.
And over the past month and a half, I switched our lineup around and put Kas at the point because you've got to guard her when she's got the basketball because she sees the floor so well she makes plays. And as soon as we did that, it also freed Chrislyn up to score. That's what she's really good at. Brought Liz off the bench. Liz had come off the bench for three years, and she will tell you, she enjoys coming off the bench because she likes to watch the game. She wants to see the speed of the game, the flow of the game. And she's had a great year for us.
And that's what it's about. And we have got to continue to just build and grind. And I'm proud of 'em. I mean, there's only going to be eight teams left and it's hard to get to this.
Q. You had talked about the need for flexibility on offense and they did get off to a good start. Did that ever really come into play for you guys? Were there adjustments you needed to make? Was it just some personnel things that kind of got you guys on track and comfortable with 'em?
JEFF WALZ: Well, you know, when you watch Ole Miss on film, they get out and like to pressure and like to get after things. Then when you get the chance to actually play against 'em in person, they do a really good job, you know, your first few passes of trying to disrupt and get after it. Then once you get the ball reversed -- and it's hard. I mean, it's hard to continue that tempo and that pace of defense for 30 seconds.
So once we got it reversed, we were able to get it to some places that we wanted. I thought we did a great job of going in the post and scoring. Then we were really good again tonight, which we have been good throughout this NCAA tournament on executing out of timeouts. I would say we scored three or four times starting quarters out of timeouts, had big baskets. Our one timeout we called two sets and scored on both of 'em back-to-back. So our kids are doing an unbelievable job of carrying what we're telling them back out on to the floor.
Q. Talk about your -- is this your best team so far or when did you know you have a very good team? When was the turning point for your team this year?
JEFF WALZ: Well, I think -- I mean, we've actually been good the entire season. We just played a very competitive non-conference schedule and our league is really good. I mean, I think I figured out we lost to nine teams this season. We lost to Virginia Tech twice and Notre Dame twice to make up our 11 losses. Eight of 'em were in the NCAA tournament and Wake Forest played in the NIT. So everybody went on, advanced on, to the tournament.
But I thought we started playing our best basketball up at Syracuse when did I make some lineup changes and I think it freed a lot of our players up to just put 'em in positions where they can be successful.
Q. Where have you seen the biggest growth in Morgan so far? Just, I mean, you touched on just bringing new pieces through the portal, but also coming through tonight with some really big minutes and how can she help you moving forward for the rest of the tournament?
JEFF WALZ: Well, I've been really pleased with Morgan for the last two and a half weeks. I've challenged her. This has been -- if she was sitting here, I would say it has not been easy for Morgan. It's been an adjustment trying to have her understand the level of play you have to play at every single day. And believe me I've gotten a lot of grief from a lot of our fans and she's been upset for not playing her more. And I said, Morgan, I'm not doing you just if I just put you in the game, if you're not going to go as hard as you can. And she's been working extra, really putting the time in to work on her ball handling, working on finishing at the rim, her free throw shooting. And throughout our ACC tournament and NCAA tournament she's really picked things up. I mean, even tonight in 26 minutes, 4-8, seven boards, two steals, two blocked shots. She was plus 23 when she was in the game. We were plus 23. Which is a pretty impressive stat. So just really happy for her because everybody thinks everything is instant success. Like you study for five minutes you're supposed to get an A. And basketball's the same way. It's a grind. You got to keep putting it in, keep putting it in you might work for two months and you might not see the rewards you want. But then all of a sudden it starts to click. And I think right now it's starting to click for her. I'm really happy for her because it's happening at the right time and I thought she was really, really big tonight.
Q. The players spoke to this and you just talked about Morgan specifically, but generally what kind of a difference was your bench and your depth tonight?
JEFF WALZ: Well again, I think because we changed our lineup we had Morgan Jones who is coming over the bench and Liz Dixon who is coming off the bench. Marissa Russell. We've got kids that can score the basketball now where, at the beginning of the year I had, I would say, 90 percent of our scoring in our starting five. And it's just really helped open some things up. Ris and that transition three she hit in the second half, third quarter I think it was, was a huge shot. Morgan's and-one that she gets. So they have adjusted to it, because it hasn't impacted their playing time. That's why I keep telling 'em. It's not going to impact your, the amount of minutes you play, it's just when you start being out there during the game. And it's great, because they really care about winning. Have you got anymore? Go ahead. I'm not going anywhere.
Q. Hailey's a great player all the time and obviously hyper competitive but it seems like both those things kind of kick it up a notch in the post-season. Just what's it like coaching her in March?
JEFF WALZ: Oh, it's great. The kid loves to -- she loves to compete. She just loves these types of moments. And I'm really happy for her, because it's -- for a kid to come from Cashmere -- I say Cashmere because I stutter on Wenatchee. Oh I got that out, okay. Which was pretty damn good right there. All right -- all the way to Louisville Kentucky. You know, that's a commitment. It's a sacrifice. And when this came out that we were being sent here to Seattle it meant a lot. Because we get past that first weekend in Austin, her family, her friends are all going to be able to come out. I thought it was pretty neat tonight when they announced her last and the ovation she got. She's a humble kid. I really, really have enjoyed coaching her and watching her grow over these three years because she's really matured. I'm happy for her, but what I love is she just loves to compete.
Q. I want to ask about Mykasa, because I haven't watched you guys up in person all that much and just was so impressed with how she runs your offense and how much she's improved. She's been a defender, but offensively getting things going for you guys, you talked about moving her to the point guard at some point in the middle of the year just how much do you feel like she's grown and is able to run things for you guys and a team that you said you don't feel like you're respected on offense just to make things go for you guys.
JEFF WALZ: She's great. I've said it all along, I mean if I was able to retire her last game I would. Because, boy, she epitomizes what Louisville women's basketball is. We came in here 16 years ago and had to change a culture and just got gritty and tough and competed and that's what Kas does. Kas, I tell her all the time, she is, she is perfect for the 50- and-over men's league, okay, at the Y. Like, she will bring her own duct tape and tape her ankles and then go out and play. And you might pick her up to play on your team, you might not. But then once you watch her you're like, okay, I got to have this kid.
She's just old school. She's willing to take a charge. She will get down, she will guard somebody. She will guard the post players if she has to. She just does whatever she has to do to win and that's what I love about her. And we are going to miss her. I mean, it's been five great years with her and just pretty amazing how she's grown throughout it and now being the offensive threat, you know, when she hit that elbow jumper she looked over and winked at me. You know, like she does it all the time. Okay. And I was just so excited because she was having so much joy out there.
THE MODERATOR: All right, thank you.
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