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March 25, 2023

Jeff Walz

Hailey Van Lith

Olivia Cochran

Mykasa Robinson

Seattle, Washington, USA

Climate Pledge Arena

Louisville Cardinals

Elite 8 Pregame Media Conference

THE MODERATOR: Good morning. We'll start with an opening statement from coach and then take some questions.

JEFF WALZ: Sure. I'll just make it short and sweet. We're just excited to still be here, still playing. Looking forward to some prep for a very, very good Iowa basketball team. It should be another great basketball game. We've had a lot of good games throughout this entire NCAA tournament. I'm expecting a great game tomorrow as well.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for some questions.

Q. Did you close down the bar last night? The second part is: I asked Caitlin this before. There's a story from a few years ago when you coached her in USA Basketball and you said to her before the game, hey, if someone gets hurt, you're shooting free throws, and sure enough that happened.

JEFF WALZ: She went 1-2.

Q. She did say that.

JEFF WALZ: Thank you. And she did go 1-2. She sure did.

The first question, yes, we closed the bar down. (Laughing.) I'm really shocked, at 10:30. Like, who closes a hotel bar at 10:30. I don't know if that's a Seattle thing or not, but in Louisville, we stay open until like 4. So, I mean, I'm not from here. Is that normal, 10:30? Okay. So we did close it down. So we made sure we ordered a few ahead of time.

Then, yes, I was fortunate to have the opportunity coach Caitlin in Summers and she's just a fantastic player. Did sit there and tell her, Hey, in case we get into a situation, someone gets injured, if you're not in there, I'm putting you in to shoot a free throw. She made the hard one, which was the first one, and then missed our second one. But then we got the ball out of bounds on the side. It was our gold medal game, and we tied it up on a side lines and got a stop, went to overtime and won.

But those are the fun teams. There's not a whole bunch of thought that goes into 'em when you've got 12 All-Americans sitting there on your team and you're playing in an international basketball game. Aliyah Boston, Paige, Hailey, Caitlin, Fran, Cameron Brink. It was just a roster full of great, great players. So, yeah. I can't say I did much during that. But she did go 1-2.

Q. Coach Bluder talked about the events of what happened in Louisville with Ava Jones and how she kind of leaned on you and all that. Could you kind of expand on that a little bit?

JEFF WALZ: Well, it was just such a terrible situation that took place in Louisville during the big basketball weekend. When we heard it and saw what took place, I reached out to Lisa and just asked if there's anything that we can do at all. She said, I'll figure some things out. Because they were still trying -- you know, it was so new, it just happened, trying to figure out what's going on, what's going to happen.

And then a few days after, she said, You know, a car would be wonderful for her grandmother. And it took one phone call to one of our boosters and it was, like, it's a done deal. Do not worry about it. They have a car dealership and within 10 minutes they had her a car. It's what our basketball community's all about. Sure, we're all trying to beat each other and you're trying to advance, you're trying to win, but the end of the day it's just about being a good person and doing what's right.

So I was very fortunate to have some wonderful people in Louisville who were willing to step up without even asking a bunch of questions at all.

Q. The football team made the work is work t-shirts inspired by J.P. can you speak to that and how much this team embodies that? And what does that mean to you guys to have the football team rally around you right now?

JEFF WALZ: I haven't really seen it yet. I did hear about it. But, yeah, J.P., it's just been a slogan of hers for a few years now, work is work, and it's kind of what our program is built on. It's like, as I said, we're not always the sexy choice, we're not the one that everybody's like, oh, you got it, this is a shoe-in, put them in your bracket, pencil them in. We're normally the one that everybody's like, oh, I think they're going to lose in the first round, they might get beat in the second round, and then they're like pissed that we keep winning.

And eventually, if you say, we're going to lose, it might happen and it's like, I told you. Well, you picked us to lose in the first round. We're in like round four. So work is work has kind of been our slogan that J.P. came up with and it's neat that our football team is using it now and behind us. It's kind of what our athletic department has been known for. We all support each other. Our swimming program just had an unbelievable finish at the NCAAs. Our baseball team is doing great right now. We've had a lot of success throughout the years. Our volleyball program, you know, back-to-back years in the Final Four. It's pretty awesome.

Q. Whether it's your experience coaching or with USA Basketball or watching her from afar, is there at this point an undervalued or an underappreciated part of Caitlin's game that sometimes gets overshadowed by maybe what she does either passing or scoring?

JEFF WALZ: Undervalued? I mean, the only thing I criticized her on, because I've got a relationship with her, and Lisa's great, because I text her -- I text Lisa last year, and I was like, Hey, Caitlin -- I'm not sure what record she broke or what she did. I said, Would you mind if I just texted her and congratulated her? Are you okay? She's like, That is fine. Because I'm not -- I'm not a coach who is tampering with people. That's other coaches in our business. So I'm not doing that crap.

But, you know, she makes that shot against Indiana to win, and I'm sure her phone was just blowing up, and I sent her a simple text that said, It hit the rim. It wasn't all that impressive. And within 45 minutes she was like, Why doesn't that surprise me from you? With a big smiley face.

No, there's nothing undervalued about her game. She's fantastic. She passes the ball. You look at the number of assists that she has, she's shooting 48 or 49 percent overall from the field, 80-plus from the free-throw line, her court vision's outstanding, her range is -- once she crosses half court. Nobody's going to undervalue what she does.

And her teammates, she does a great job with her teammates. She sets 'em up and they're shot-ready and they take advantage of what she can do with the ball. So I think she's got a complete game and everybody knows it. If you undervalue her game, it's just because you don't like her for some reason.

Q. How much has Morgan lifted you guys in this tournament with what she's brought you guys off the bench?

JEFF WALZ: No, it's been fantastic. Morgan has played extremely well and I'm really proud of her. She's playing hard, she's competing, she's starting to make reads, which is something that we've worked extremely hard with her on. When people play her different ways now, she's not getting as frustrated. If we can continue to have her play the way she is, and Liz off the bench as well, and Ris, we've got some scoring and some depth. When you can go eight or nine deep, it's extremely helpful in this tournament.

Q. Obviously Caitlin stands out when you look at scouting Iowa, but what else really comes to mind when you're thinking about how you craft a defensive game plan against them?

JEFF WALZ: They're a whole team. I mean, everybody does their job. The young lady in the post that I've been practicing trying to say her name, but I stutter every time I say it, so it's like it's worthless. She's phenomenal. She doesn't dribble the basketball. It's quite amazing. She catches it, turns and shoots over the left or right shoulder. I'm looking for her. I was hoping to pass her and tell her, I couldn't have recruited you anyway because I could have never said your name. I mean, golly. I stutter on that worse than anything.

But she is -- she's phenomenal. I just love the demeanor she plays with. She's a competitor, she's fierce, but she puts a smile on, she has fun, and I love that about players. And then they have got some shooters. You've got Marshall, who goes out there and everybody, oh, she look so sweet, so nice, and she will rip your head off. It's what I like about her. It's the fun part about it. And everybody knows their role and they do it really darn well. Lisa and her staff have done a remarkable job of getting their team, like our team, to buy into what your role is.

If it's to come in for five or six minutes and get four or five boards, that's what they're doing. If it's to knock down a three, it's what they're doing. And it's quite impressive. And there's a reason they're playing in this game same as us. It's not an accident when you get to this point in time.

Q. You've talked about how this team took would take a little longer to progress just kind of in developing. What gave you that inclination, I guess, at the beginning of the season and how much of that potential do you think you're seeing right now?

JEFF WALZ: Well, I think we're seeing all of it right now. This is what I was hoping we could get to. And what gave me that inclination is we weren't very good. And I'm talking about in July and August. I'm not talking about in November or December. It took us a while to get a feel for who could do what, what are the roles going to be. And once we figured that out, which we have over the past month and a half, and everybody's bought in, it's a special group to watch.

Q. You talked about enjoying the moment last night, and the advice that the assistants gave you way back when. What was that process like for you? Because as you continue to strive and we see your intensity, what's it like to balance appreciating the accomplishments with striving for more?

JEFF WALZ: Well, it's a part of life. See, I love what I do, but it's not my life. I don't have to coach until I'm 80. I love what I do, but I enjoy spending time with my family just as much. I'm excited. My son lives with his mom down in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, was excited he was able to fly out here on Thursday night. My daughter is a junior in high school. She just moved up with my wife and I. She's from my first marriage and she decided she wants to possibly play college volleyball, and Louisville has very good high school volleyball and our club teams are seen as very good.

Last May, she's like, Hey, Dad, I think I'm going to move up there. And I'm like, Okay, sure, you know, you're going to move away from Mom and all your friends. Well, then, in June, she's moving in. So she is here. And then my wife and I have a nine- and seven-year-old, who are on a plane right now flying out. My brother and his daughter are bringing 'em out because they had school testing this week. So they had to fly back from Austin.

So I love what I do, but I can't wait to see them. There's nothing better than when I get to have my entire family around. My parents, my in-laws, all went to Austin. We prepare to win a basketball game and that's what we're going to come out here tomorrow and do. Win, lose, or draw at the end of the night, I've got kids and a family and friends to make sure that I don't just put basketball as No. 1 and that's all I do, because at the end of the day, we're not curing cancer, you know? We're playing a game. Now, it's important. It's how I feed my family. But it's basketball. So I've learned that throughout my 28 years and I'm very intense, I'm passionate, I want to win, I'm going to compete, but when it's over it's over. I can tell you that right now. I don't hang onto this. I used to, but I don't anymore. You move on to the next. Sure it sucks. I hate to lose, but I'm not going to be a miserable SOB because we lost a basketball game and be rude to you.

I tell people all the time, nobody -- they're like, oh, I don't want to talk to you before game. I don't want to disrupt you. And I'm like, I haven't missed a shot yet. I mean, I've missed one in my career and I got reprimanded for it as a coach. The bad pass got thrown out of bounds on a fast break against Virginia in conference and I told our kids, You throw me one more pass, I'm shooting the dam thing. And they threw it right in stride and I just raised up and shot it. And the players on the bench were like, God, please don't go in. Because if it would have gone in, boy, it would have been an unbelievable show for me.

But like so my -- once we put a game plan in -- 6 o'clock is tomorrow night's game, is that correct? 6? Okay. Well, at 6 then I'm -- then I've got to be on. I got to make sure for adjustments, subs, then that's my time. Hopefully, I can just sit there and we don't have to make any adjustments.

But once the game's over, it's over, and I'm going to make sure that I'm taking care of my family, my kids are there with me, and we're enjoying this entire experience because life is too short. I mean, you just never know what's around that next corner.

Q. Alexa Philippou with ESPN --

JEFF WALZ: I know who you are. You picked us to lose in that first round.

Q. No, no, no.

JEFF WALZ: Oh, yes you did. Don't backpedal on me now.

Q. I said potential upset, but I picked Louisville. I picked Louisville.

JEFF WALZ: Now that's interesting. The big upset. But you picked us.

Q. I said they had a potential --

JEFF WALZ: I'm teasing. I'm teasing.

Q. Now I forgot my question. I was actually -- a quick one, um, did you know Ava Jones or her family before that whole tragic accident?


Q. It was just because it was in Louisville that you connected?

JEFF WALZ: Yes. I did not know. But once that took place, obviously it gathered a lot of media attention and then I do consider Lisa to be a friend and I put a text in to her and a call and was just like, if we can do anything at all. Because it's just terrible.

Q. With this, now that you've been here a few days with this regional format where you have two eight teams at one point here, do you have any thoughts on how it's gone so far from a logistical standpoint. I know Lisa was saying there's a little bit less practice time. Is that something that you found?

JEFF WALZ: No, it doesn't concern me at all. I think it's been great. I think the NCAA's done a fantastic job. The crowds have been -- the crowd at least in our game last night was awesome. I'm expecting a great crowd tomorrow night as well. You've just got to give a little bit. It's part of it. I say it all the time, we're not in a place right now where -- the KFC Yum! Center's hosting a regional for the men right now in Louisville. It sold out before they know who is playing. You know, like we're not sold out here before we know who is playing. And that's just -- we're not at that point yet.

So if we can do -- whatever we can do to put more teams in one location to bring in more fans, I think the better. Players want to play in front of people. And if that's what it take, that's what it takes. If we only get an hour to shoot tonight, well, that's all they're going to get. So we have to go to an off site. It's no big deal. The goal's the same height. We played here last night. It's not like somebody else is getting an hour and a half advantage over me. So we're all getting the same thing. So I think it's fantastic. The event's been great, the arena, the staff, everybody has been first class.

THE MODERATOR: All right. Thank you. We'll have the student-athletes up here momentarily.


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

Q. Hailey, you've obviously played with Caitlin before on USA Basketball. What is that relationship like and how have you seen her game evolve since then?

HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, I think I've known Caitlin for awhile now. We played on a couple USA teams together. Great person off the court, really funny, great sense of humor. Yeah, I mean, I have supported her through her college career and she's supported me through mine. She's gotten better every year. She's gotten better since I played with her in Team USA. So she's a great player and great person.

Q. Olivia and Hailey, why is Mykasa the best perimeter defender in the country? And do you have any humbling stories from practice or pickup games of her lockdown ability?

HAILEY VAN LITH: I mean, I think you could just look at the stats, man. I mean, ever since I've been at Louisville, especially last year, Mykasa guarded the team's best player and last year we were known for holding the best player to under 10 points, and that was because of her. She can guard 1 through 5. She's not just a guard defender. She's not just a post defender. She can guard any position and successfully.

I think she also is -- off the ball, her IQ for reading passing lanes and knowing where people are trying to go with the ball is the best that I've ever seen or played against. So I think, first off, just look at the stats of the percentages that people shoot when we play against them, but second, yeah -- and honestly, I think of the other perimeter defenders that are up for best perimeter defender or whatever that may be, like, her competitiveness and what she brings to this team is a lot more than just defense.

OLIVIA COCHRAN: Yeah, she has heart. So I feel like every day she goes out there she plays for her teammates, not only herself, she's playing for us, and I feel like that brings everybody together. Like Hailey said, look at the stats. We run off her energy, so I feel like if shes getting down to guard, we got to do the same and that just comes from heart.

Q. Mykasa, with that being said, I imagine you're probably going to draw the defense on Caitlin. What do you have to do to stay with her?

MYKASA ROBINSON: Yeah, Caitlin's a great player. I think really just being physical from the jump. I think it's going to be a great team defensive night. I think we're going to all play really well, maybe do a little trapping, do what we got to do. So just staying locked in and picking her up full court.

Q. I think I talked to you about it, Olivia, last night, but, Mykasa and Hailey, the football team is making the work is work t-shirts inspired by J.P. What does that mean to you guys as far as that saying, and how much do you feel like you've exemplified that and what does that mean to have that kind of Louisville family support?

MYKASA ROBINSON: I think the biggest thing I take from work is work is that we don't always have to put all of our business out. We do a lot in the dark. We do a lot of work in the gym. We put in a lot of hours that people don't see. So all of our preparation is why we are where we are and that it's going to continue to keep us successful.

HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of people have been trying to steal it, or jack J.P.'s phrase, but you heard it here first. It's from J.P. So credit to her. And it's really something that over the last couple years we kind of -- when we hear it, like, we get excited, like we feel identity in it, and we feel like that's what Louisville basketball is. So, yeah, it's been a journey with that. Work is work.

Q. Mykasa, last night Coach talked about midway through the season he moved you to the point guard spot and just how that opened up the offense for you guys. I want to ask you just how that move, you feel like, has gone for you and just that conversation when he decided that he was going to let you sort of be the primary ball handler on offense?

MYKASA ROBINSON: Yeah, in the moment, I thought, okay whatever it takes to win, you know, I'll do whatever for this team. So it was, honestly, just -- I thought it was very easy, I thought the team adjusted really well to it, I thought we played off each other really well, and I think that we're going to really use it tomorrow just getting people open shots and then just being successful in that.

Q. How much of a difference have you noticed in Morgan in this tournament and what has she brought you off the bench?

MYKASA ROBINSON: Morgan's energy, I think that's been the difference-maker for us. She comes in, she gets an and one, we're screaming, we're yelling. She comes in, she gets a big block. It's just momentum changes that she's bringing to the team that's really helping us.

OLIVIA COCHRAN: Definitely. Morgan, she's come a long way. I'm so proud and I'm so happy for her. She's playing -- she executing her role very well. She knows that we need her, so I feel like she is stepping up in a big way.

HAILEY VAN LITH: I would say, I feel like she's playing very free right now. She's not second-guessing herself anymore on offense or defense. She's trusting her defensive instincts. On offense she's trusting her ability to drive and score, and that's what we've needed from her. Yeah, kudos to her for delivering.

Q. I think Coach was saying back in like July he was, like, we weren't really good then and just talking about how it took some time for everything to kind of come together. Where do you think has been the biggest area of growth for you all and was there a certain point at all throughout the season or even during the summer where you started to see, okay, we do have that potential, we just need to stay the course?

OLIVIA COCHRAN: I think our defense, like Hailey just said, trusting our defense instincts. Everybody was second-guessing themselves, and I felt like in the beginning of the season we didn't feel like -- we didn't have each other's back, and I feel like now that we trust our inner circle, I feel like everybody has each other's backs and we know like if this person get beat, oh, we're going to switch and peel out to guard that person. So I feel like we trust each other now and we're glued and we're tight knit, and I love that for us.

Q. Hailey, as you've matured, how have you learned to channel your intensity? And do you ever take it easy on yourself?

HAILEY VAN LITH: You know, that's actually funny because I still struggle with channeling it. Like I'm very expressive in my emotions and it's just how I am. I'm not going to change it about myself. It's what makes me great. Just as much as it can be annoying for others and myself sometimes. But, no, I think I have a lot of great people around me who are willing to understand me. And I think they understand sometimes when that intensity comes out it's not anything that is bad intentioned. It's me pushing other people to be great, pushing myself to be great and wanting to win. And I think that my teammates and my coaches appreciate that about me, so they don't hold my intensity against me.

I appreciate that because, in high school, I struggled with that, playing around people and with coaches who wanted me to dim that light. I think that playing at Louisville I've been able to shine that light and it's what has separated me from other people in the country. And, yeah, I still struggle sometimes to control it, but I'm doing a lot better. I'm much more mature. And, yeah. Every day is a work in progress.

MYKASA ROBINSON: We love that energy.

Q. So last night it was obviously a Louisville crowd with the hometown factor for Hailey. Iowa traveled real well too and it was a very electric crowd for them. Maybe Hailey and then one of the others, talk about the anticipation of probably being able to play in front of a very electric, very energized crowd in a city that definitely appreciates women's basketball.

MYKASA ROBINSON: Yeah, just like you said, it's great for women's basketball. It shows that we have support, that we are good, that people want to watch us play. Thank goodness for our girl here, we're going to bring in as much bread as we can. It's a family atmosphere here at Louisville through all of us, so it will be super exciting.

HAILEY VAN LITH: Yeah, I mean, I think for me it's one of those moments that you just, you work your whole life for to be playing on a national stage in the Elite 8 with a packed house. Yeah, you can't trade it for any other scenario. So it's going to make or break you. That type of pressure, it forms diamonds or it crushes you. So we'll see which side we come out on.

Q. Olivia, your coach was talking a lot about how much he admirers Monika Czinano's game. Just how she's able to finish over each shoulder without dribbling when she gets the ball in the post. What sort of defensive challenge does she present for you and for Liz?

OLIVIA COCHRAN: Yeah, like you said, Monika is a great player, great finisher. I never played against her before. My first time was watching the game last night. I'm excited to play against her. It's going to be challenging. I'm not going to -- she's going to score, I'm going to score. I mean, we're both great post players and I feel like whoever gets the most stops that's who is going to be successful.

I feel like, me personally, I'm going to do whatever I can to not let her -- I'm going to make her catches hard. I'm going to challenge her. I'm going to be aggressive and I'm going to be physical and try to keep her off the low block. Try to push her out more so she can shoot the more face-up jumpers, because she finishes so well in the post. So I'm going to just try to keep her out of the post so it can be easier for me. I'm ready, so we're going to see what it takes.

THE MODERATOR: All right, thank you.

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