March 30, 1997
DEBBIE BYRNE: As we did before, we will allow Coach Summitt to make an opening statement and please direct your questions to the players first.
COACH SUMMITT: Fifth in the SEC, number one in the country. Doesn't that just sum up what this team just accomplished? You know, I've been very, very blessed in many, many ways in my life. This year was a tremendous blessing for me, for our players, our staff in that we faced a lot of adversity. We had injuries. We had tough losses. But we never had attitude problems that we could not move on from immediately, and this is a group that will always be very special to me personally as well as professionally. And to our staff and our team, I just applaud their willingness to work together to do something that was never done to the University of Tennessee, and that's win back-to-back championships. I just feel very, very fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn and to grow and to be challenged, and to come through in a championship way with this team.
Q. For Abby and Pashen, how does this one compare to the last title?
ABBY CONKLIN: How does this compare to last year's title? I think this one was a lot sweeter. You know, we weren't expected to be here. We lost ten games and last year we were the underdog but not like this year. We lost ten games. This year, I mean, it was so much a team effort. Our freshmen came in and played for us. Just everybody stepped up. Misty Greene, it was the whole team.
PASHEN THOMPSON: This team we are a different team than last year. The only people that believed in us, we believed in us, our coaches and friends, and nobody else did. We just did it.
Q. Chamique, do you feel you had to take control with about 3 and-a-half minutes to go, a very tight game, and you scored on a couple of possessions in a row?
CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW: I just went out there and played and the Coach said I shouldn't hide, and Kellie made incredible passes. I'm so glad to have her on my team.
Q. Chamique, could you document your game in general, and your emotions on being repeat champions?
CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW: Tonight I felt I let the pressure get to me earlier and my team got to me and my coaches. In the second half I went out and let things come to me and I'm excited at being a national champion. This program hasn't been done before, and right now we kind of have our place in history.
Q. Pat, could you talk about what you tried to do defensively on Penicheiro particularly in the first half?
COACH SUMMITT: I think certainly she is their key. We really felt we had to keep constant pressure on her. By keeping that constant pressure on Penicheiro, we also thought we could step up, deny the high post. Watch the progression of games that they played in the NCAA. Interesting, not any teams really didn't try to take away their entry pass to the middle of the floor. I thought that was also the key not only to ball pressure but our ability to apply pressure. They broke us down a couple of times early on back-door plays but I would say our basketball team still kept intense pressure on that middle passing. And our defense was good. If you go back and look at Kellie in the first half of the game, she was all over the floor, only guarding the ball. We got some steals, got some momentum early, which we needed.
Q. Chamique, could you just talk -- I know you won four state championships in high school and now the first two years in college, won national titles. What does it feel like, that you never had a season end in anything other than championships?
CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW: Right now it feels great and I hope it just continues. It would be great if I could win two more championships. I'm just excited. Like I told my team, luck is on my side.
Q. Chamique, they had you in a one, two, two zone. And you were set up and made two great passes to get you rolling in that streak. What were you doing, just looking for an open spot?
CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW: Yes. Coach Summitt had told me to work the baseline. Kellie stayed sharp and looked for me and hit me with the high and low and was able to make some great passes.
Q. Kellie, could you comment on Chamique's game tonight and what she has meant for the team?
KELLIE JOLLY: I'm glad she is on my team. Chamique is an easy player to play with. She works really well without the ball. She will go get it, go get the passes out there, as well as the rest of my teammates.
Q. Can any of the players talk about when they came back, you had an 18 point lead and all of a sudden they were up by two. What was going on in your minds after you saw what happened with Stanford?
ABBY CONKLIN: You know, I think we left the locker room saying that we didn't want to let them back in the game. Stanford had a 7 point lead going into the second half, and Old Dominion came back and won. What was going through my mind, how can we play such a great first half and let them come back here? I think probably myself and the rest of my team were just determined that we were not going to let them win this game. We fought too hard, especially in the first half. It was going to be our game.
Q. This is for Pashen or Tiffani. Can you comment on the physicalness down low and what was going on down there?
TIFFANI JOHNSON: It was a very physical game tonight. It was physical the first time we played. We didn't step up to the challenge. But tonight I think Pashen came out determined to meet the challenge and we were fortunate to come out with a victory.
PASHEN THOMPSON: It was a very physical game offense and defense and we did a great job defending.
Q. What was the low point of the season? Did you ever doubt that you could reach this stage, Kellie?
KELLIE JOLLY: After the ODU loss, we played so hard there the first round, and came up short. But I think deep down the team knew that we could do it. We would be alive in March, and we just had faith and believed in ourselves.
Q. Kyra, as a freshman, can you say a few words what it was like to come from high school in this program, what the year's been like this week?
COACH SUMMITT: Speak your mind.
KYRA ELZY: It has been an up-and-down road but I'm just glad to be here and I'm glad we won.
DEBBIE BYRNE: We will allow the players to be released. We will continue with your questions for Coach Summitt.
Q. Pat, could you just comment on Chamique's game tonight, and overall, the season?
COACH SUMMITT: I thought in the first half Chamique was forcing things a little bit offensively. But she told me at half time, "I'll be ready in the second half, Coach Summitt." But regardless, she has such a presence on the floor for our team, whether she touches the ball or not. She is a very gifted athlete with great basketball skills. But something that she has that's really, really special, and you combine all three, is that she has a tremendous desire to win. She is a fierce competitor, and the more pressure, the more she looks to get the ball and make plays. I told her to quit passing the basketball. And as far as I'm concerned, you know, I told them there are a lot of great players out there, but right now she is the best in the college game.
Q. What kind of things did you do and maybe did you pick some things up from watching the way Stanford didn't handle their pressure and use it to your advantage tonight?
PAT SUMMITT: Well, we did a couple of things. One is, I just really don't think that you can go out and win in March unless you know how the opposition plays on the offensive end. We knew we had to apply tremendous ball pressure to the point guard and we have tremendous respect for Penicheiro and I think Kyra came in and played well early and set the tone. The other thing, on the defensive end, I mentioned before, we put pressure at the high post. That was a key for us. Then we talked about helping and who we could help off of. Every time the ball went into the post, Kellie was our helper as long as they didn't have what we call their pure shooter on the floor. So she knocked away balls early, and a great defensive game plan that was put together by our entire staff. We had a lot of help. But you can have all the excellent mentality that you want. Unless the team will buy into your scouting report -- it was text book tonight, really was. The other thing we saw in the Stanford game, I thought in the beginning of the second half, Old Dominion did a fantastic job of coming out and going right to the block and crammed the ball in. I thought Pashen and Tiffani's defense early was keeping the ball off the block.
Q. If I'm not mistaken, you passed Adolph Rupp. The only one left is John Wooden with UCLA. With players like Holdsclaw and Jolly, you have the number one, two and three players in America. Do you think John Wooden is worried? How hard does John have to work?
COACH SUMMITT: John is safe for a long time. I mean, tonight it is hard for me to put into words how I feel. I'll tell you this. We got a lot of talent coming in. But we didn't win a championship when we had the most talented teams I ever coached. If you look at those championships, four of them came with teams that were not as talented, unfortunately, as teams that couldn't win one. For whatever reason, whether it is chemistry or handling the pressure or whatever, I just want to enjoy this one. If we never win another one, we have a place in history of women's basketball.
Q. Coach, a lot of questions this weekend have been about Chamique's place in history or in the game. I don't know if this is an awkward thing for you to address, but do you think about your own place in the women's game and what you have accomplished and number of titles?
PAT SUMMITT: As I said before, I feel very, very blessed and very fortunate. Tennessee gave Pat Summitt a chance. At the time I was 22 years old and I became the Head Coach and I had four players that were 21. I made a lot of mistakes over the years and I learned from my mistakes. But the one thing that's been consistent, I always tried to surround myself with good people and always tried to do things the right way. I've had an administration that has always been there for me, and given me the resources to maintain a great staff to keep them with me as opposed to see them leaving and go other places. The resources to recruit nationally, to travel and play nationally, I mean, I really don't want for a whole lot at Tennessee. I've been very, very blessed in that regard. Tennessee's place in history, I just hope I'm there a few more years and have a chance to keep working, and then when I'm sitting in a rocking chair somewhere in a few years down the road, then I'll think about it. But I'll probably be rocking fast because I don't know what I'll do if I quit working.
Q. Coach, do you remember the last time a Tennessee team came out with the intensity your team came out with right from the opening tipoff?
PAT SUMMITT: Yes, last Monday night. It reminded me of our intensity against Connecticut. I felt the same today. It was weird. I had the same thing with the team. We went through the practice. I felt very confident. Our team was so focused and so motivated. I just felt like in the opening minutes of the game, we got a repeat right here in terms of our intensity and our defensive presence on the floor.
Q. Coach, you said earlier this week that it made you nervous to have a sophomore player. How important do you think it is for this game and how has the four years been --
PAT SUMMITT: First of all, the men's game, in terms of the talent pool, there is certainly a greater number of NBA prospects out there. You can lose a Ron Mercer and Kentucky can move on and go because the talent pool you can recruit from is much greater. In the women's game, it would really hurt the college game. You have to look out there tonight and say right now that's the greatest game that we have for our sport. If you look at the Final Four, this is it. This is our Super Bowl. I would really hate to see us dip into the collegiate game and take away some of the best players and the high-profile players, and then look at the NBA because the NBA is young now. We have to wait and see what happens. But we got a great game, a great thing going.
Q. Considering the road you have come with the ten losses and the difficult season, does it make this title more rewarding? When you look back out, how does that feel?
PAT SUMMITT: Well, I would never take away from any championship, a championship team, a championship run. You know, that's very special. Things have to come together when you finish out with a championship. Every player, every staff member, the memories are there, and they are all special. This is very special because there were so many negative things out there, that I felt for the team. I heard the crowd, the things they said to them. It toughened up their skin. I feel this championship will always stand out because of the team that won a national title with ten losses, most in the history of this tournament, and yet they played the toughest schedule, they didn't fold. And I would tell you, I was tough on them. Abby said, "If there is a championship in us, that woman will get it out of us." I don't know that that's what happened but they believed in our staff. And we got it out of them somehow. But they had a lot to do with that.
Q. Coach, a two-parter. What was the low point of the season from your standpoint, and when did you begin to sense that maybe the team had this kind of run in it?
PAT SUMMITT: It is interesting. The low point of my season was the Old Dominion loss. After that loss, when I went in the locker room, I never seen this team so upset. I mean, sobbing to the point that they couldn't breathe. I walked in and I told them this. As a matter of fact, we watched this on a highlight tape today. I walked in and I told them, "Ladies, easy. Let's get together, calm down. Tonight you played with effort, you played hard, did you not?" Yes, they did, but they were sobbing. And I said, if this is the number two team in the country, if you will continue to give this kind of effort, I promise you, we will be there in March. And I replayed that for them today on a little highlight tape, and we watched it on the bus when we came over here. They kept believing and kept working. That was our turning point, no question. We had some other tougher times, but that's why I said it was fitting that we had a chance to play Old Dominion tonight. Before I leave the microphone, I want to compliment Old Dominion. That's a great basketball team. You look at their road to the Final Four. And they're tough, mentally tough. They were tough tonight. I just applaud Wendy and her effort that her players gave and the strategy that she used. I knew tonight we had our hands full. We beat a great basketball team that was well coached and mentally tough. That makes me prouder of our team. I want to make that closing comment. Thank you.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Congratulations. This will conclude the formal press conference.
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