March 29, 1997
DEBBIE BYRNE: Like the last one, we will go right to your questions. If you remember, we will do a formal interview for about 20, 25 minutes or so and then the five starters will go into the arena where you will be allowed to do one-on-ones, and Coach Summitt will stay for additional questions. Let's go to your questions.
Q. Pat, Kate Starbird, and her place in women's basketball. What is Chamique's place in women's basketball, would you say?
PAT SUMMITT: Certainly Chamique has made a name for herself. While she is an All-American performer and as we said last night, without her we would be on spring break. I have compared her to a lot of people. She doesn't like to be compared to anyone. She wants to be her own person. I truly understand it and she has her own style and own game. And yet she has not seen the top of her game yet. She is going, in my opinion, if she continues to excel, improve, work and be serious about her game, I think she will become one of the best that ever played this game. But she truly is an All-American. She is a competitor, and the type of player that wants the ball when the game is on the line, and we want her to have the basketball when the game is on the line.
Q. Coach, you said yesterday in your post game conference something about you have no idea what this team has been through this season. Can you elaborate more on that and also address the Louisiana Tech game.
PAT SUMMITT: Well, first of all, we put together one of the toughest schedules in the history of our program because we lost our back court and then we lost Kellie to an ACL injury. Virtually we lost three of our best back court players before we started competition. And so we are in a situation where I knew we were in trouble. I knew Chamique would have to handle the ball an awful lot. I knew Kyra was going to have to grow up in a hurry. There was no time to do that because we came right out of the gates playing the best teams in the country. We are not accustomed to losing. I don't know that I handle it very well. I hope I never get accustomed to losing. But back-to-back losses really challenged our team. It was a time in which our front-line people were not standing up and playing as well as they should. Chamique was having to carry a big load. If she has to do this all year long, she will be worn out and we will be worn out as a team and not be any type of contender in March. So Louisiana Tech loss, I just thought we quit there. But you saw their Auburn game. They looked a lot like that against us. They were explosive, overwhelmed us with quickness and inside play. But what disappointed me, our front-line people didn't compete. I can take a lot of things, coach a lot of things but I'm not good at coaching effort. We came away and learned from that and were very respectable at the SECs and we got better after that. Our biggest improvement probably came after our loss in the ACC Tournament and we developed a little bit of an attitude.
Q. What would you say has been the turning point, or have you had a turning point this season? Was there a time where mentally you said I had enough losing? Was it ever there?
PAT SUMMITT: I think our win in Alabama was a turning point although we had losses after that. I think we gained a lot of confidence, being able to win there and also win at Vanderbilt. That's a really big game for us, both in state and in the conference and nationally. So both those games were significant in terms of our players understanding their level of play and what they could do, and what they could do on the road.
Q. This is for Tiffani and Pashen. Other players in the country hope to get to this point. You are almost expected to get here. I want you to talk about what it is like to play in a program with the level of expectation you get in March.
PASHEN THOMPSON: Well, for me, I think that playing at Tennessee, we are expected to get to the Final Four, expected to play in the SEC Tournament and it doesn't put pressure on us but just motivates us.
TIFFANI JOHNSON: I agree with Pashen. Like she said, a lot of people expect us to get to the Final Four every year and play in the SEC Championship game every year. You know, if we lose one or two games or we don't quite make it. Like I could recall a couple of years ago, they lost a couple of games and made it to the Final Four and didn't have a good year. Just because you don't win the big game, you could have a big year, great year without winning a championship. But I agree with Pashen, it motivates us.
Q. Coach, when you first started, Old Dominion was one of the top programs, ones that you had a battle with. As the years have gone by, they have gone down and teams were there and went and they are coming back. Tennessee has been almost a constant through there. How have you been able to keep your program at this level through all the changes that's gone on through women's basketball, and why haven't some of the other earlier programs that were there with you been able to do the same thing?
PAT SUMMITT: Well, I think, first of all, the consistency and the success that we have had with our staff, Mickie De Moss, our recruiting coordinator, and Holly Warlick was at Tennessee 12 years, and I believe in consistency, and I had my secretary for 16 years. My manager has been working with me since he is nine years old. I say that but I really think consistency has a lot to do with it. When I talk about my staff and Al Brown, who has been with the game a long time, having people that are loyal and committed to doing what you need to do, and you win with people. In life you win with people. If you want to be successful, you go get the best players that are committed to the same system, hopefully, that you are. You know, if you look at the All-Americans and you look at the Olympians in women's basketball, we are at the top of the list in terms of the number of players. I attribute that to the hard work of our assistants and also to Tennessee, the facilities, the conference. There is a lot to say but you win with people, win with players. Some years you miss out in recruiting but you have to have a backup playing, and if you don't get number one or two, you better get number three and four if you want to compete with the people that we play on the schedule.
Q. Coach, I notice that you got Tiffani with you today instead of Abby. Is that a change for tomorrow?
PAT SUMMITT: This is our starting lineup for tomorrow.
Q. What brought that about?
PAT SUMMITT: A couple of things. Matching up with Old Dominion, the way we want to match up early in the game. Abby has played her best basketball coming off the bench. Really not pleased last night with how we started the game defensively. I think for Abby, she does better when she watches, and Tiffani is really good to start the game strong. I thought Tiffani, if you knew our scouting report and you watched a lot of those stills and big plays on the defensive end, Tiffani is one of our smartest players, and she really made some real good breeds. I want to reward her but the main thing, I want to get out of the box with our defensive game playing.
Q. Coach, early in the tournament you kind of relished and flourished as being the underdog and in spite of their record, Old Dominion people are surprised they are there. Who is the underdog in this game?
PAT SUMMITT: I think both teams are top dogs, in the final game, competing for a championship. You know, they are number one seed, we are number three. A lot of that is because of the schedule we played, the number of losses that we have. We have played them head-to-head. They clearly whipped us at both ends of the floor. We had 29 turnovers, I guess, a season high. They rebounded us by 16. We hope we can change some things when we play them. When you get to this game, you got to go out and play like a top dog and win the game. I'm sure they will, and that's what we want to do.
Q. Chamique, could you tell us maybe some of your role models for people you have had in your game. As a secondary thing, you might be a little embarrassed. Where is your place in the women's game, do you think?
CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW: First of all, I look up to players like Michael Jordan, Anthony Hardaway, Julius Erving, Scottie Pippen. I feel my place in women's basketball hasn't been yet established. I think as a player I am still growing. One of the few players that have received a lot of attention, I go out there and try to play and raise my level of play to my competition.
Q. Pat, can you talk about some of the problems of Old Dominion, that they present for you?
PAT SUMMITT: How long you got? Certainly you look at their defensive intensity and what they are able to generate offensively because of their defense. And they break people down. Last night, Stanford, they are struggling to run their offense, couldn't get the ball inside. And so that's a problem, I think, just the ball handling against the great pressure. You know, if you go the other way, you start the second half. Penicheiro gets the ball wherever they want her to get the ball and in the second half it went to the block time after time after time. Well, that's because you got two explosive go-to players on the block and they pass the ball well and beat you off the dribble. They are a great team. I don't see any weaknesses. They got 3-point shooters and we have to be on top of our game. Defensive rebounding has to be solid, and obviously ball handling is a top priority for us.
Q. I think ten losses is the most of any championship finalist.
PAT SUMMITT: I wonder why they let us come. I'm just kidding. We just heard that all week.
Q. I know. But does that make this season even more memorable or how many championships you won and how many times you have been here. This should blur together. Does this stand out even more?
PAT SUMMITT: Certainly because of the losses and the adversity and what we have had to overcome and how we were playing in January and how we were playing in March, there is no question that I'm proud of our team, and it is very special to see them grow and gain confidence and momentum at the right time of the year. I'd say probably ten years from now, as you look back and people talk about Final Four teams and what stands out in your mind, this team will clearly stand out in my mind, and this season will stand out. I told them when we were at Old Dominion, with a five hour meeting the day before we played, I told them I was going to write a book, and I would definitely include this team as a big part of that book and this season. I'm really proud. It is hard, especially, I guess, maybe for me sometimes when I'm in the heat of competition, to really express how much I care about these players. I'm just so proud of them. And I have great, and I will have great memories, regardless of what happens tomorrow night. This team is very special to me and to our staff and to our program.
Q. This is for Kellie. With all the injuries that you have had and the rest of the team, if I told you you were going to be in the championship game after you guys were 10 and 6, what would you have said?
KELLIE JOLLY: I would hope you would be right. Obviously we had a tough schedule, a tough year. It has been a roller coaster ride for most of us. I think in the back of our minds we all believed that we could get here. Pat kept saying we would be alive in March and we just kept believing.
Q. Pat, you said the team has grown over the course of the season. I wonder how you feel about you. Has the season done anything for you as a coach?
PAT SUMMITT: I've aged; I've matured. I think it has been good for me professionally to grow. You know, when you know you have some limitations or you have players that are young, you need to really develop in certain phases of the game. I think it challenges you more as a coach, and a coaching staff. And our staff has done a great job. I have so much help, and yet so many times the assistants, they don't get the credit. But this has been a team effort on the part of our staff and I think our staff has done a better job because we had to. We felt like every game we had to help this team. There have been nights I've gone home absolutely emotionally drained. It is not just one game. It seems like it is about every game. It has been something that I think helped me and allowed me to appreciate my staff as well.
Q. This is for Pat. You said before you had great players. Correct me if I am wrong. This is probably the earliest that you have hitched your wagon to a player and abilities. How easy or difficult was it for you to do that?
PAT SUMMITT: Well, it is probably accurate to say it happened quite early in Chamique's career. I remember last year when we played Vanderbilt at home and Chamique was a freshman and came over and grabbed my jacket and she said, "Coach, give me the ball." I said just a minute. We are working on an inside option to Abby right now. I remember that. I loved it. When I have a player of her caliber, number one, I'm going to want her to have the ball frequently. But for that kind of player to want the ball and not hide -- and I've coached a lot of great players but did not step up when the game was on the line. The one thing about Chamique, she will not hide on you. Only once this year I feel she faded in and out of us and that was against Auburn. If we go down, we will go down swinging and she will step up and not fade in and out on us.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Any additional questions for the players at all because the Coach will remain with us.
Q. Chamique, what can you do for an encore from what you did the other night? Can you play better than you did?
CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW: I think I can play better than I rebounded yesterday. For me to have five rebounds is pretty disappointing to me because I am used to getting 10 or 11. I think my teammates picked up the slack last night. I think my rebounding will get better and my overshots.
DEBBIE BYRNE: We will release the players to the arena.
Q. This is for Kellie or Tiffani. Pat said to develop a little bit of an attitude in the last few games. What is that attitude?
KELLIE JOLLY: I think we are more confident now than we have been. And we are going out playing with more emotion, and we are playing to win.
TIFFANI JOHNSON: I agree with Kellie. We are also more intense, you know. We have an attitude. I know on defense I got your back, you got mine. We are better on defense and we just have that in-your-face attitude. If you score on me, I'm going to go right back and score on you, and make it better.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Ladies, you are released. I will ask you to take your name cards in front of you, please.
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