April 5, 2003
DEBBIE BYRNE: Coach Summitt will make an opening statement.
COACH SUMMITT: Obviously, we're excited to be in Atlanta and be a part of what we think is going to be a great Final Four and these two young ladies with me, Gwen and Kara have an awful lot to do with our journey. Not just this year but throughout there careers and looking forward to helping them in their third round at a Final Four. Hopefully play some of the best basketball of their career and the two of them have certainly had a major impact on our team and our program. So we're delighted to be here and ready to play.
Q. Q. Have you been a strong advocate about the market team of the women's college game, for parity to spread; what else do you see besides marketing that would improve and grow the women's games?
COACH SUMMITT: I really think two things: I think the marketing will help and the second thing which is recruiting. I think if you have the resources and the facilities and the staff in place and you provide the resources to really market so you're generating a great environment that student athletes want to be a part of and certainly having the facilities and the resources to recruit, there are certainly the talent pool is greater than it was say 25 years ago. Even in the last 10 years, I just think that the number of potential signees for Division 1 programs that can be players of impact has grown significantly. So those would be marketing and obviously recruiting would be the two things that I think could bring about more parity and that's what we are always talking about in order for our game to go to that next level.
Q. Q. So much has been made about your offense; what did you run last year that was different and also for the players? When did you really feel like you guys really started to grasp the offense?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, last year we were not involved. In motion offense, we ran more of two-out, two -in. We ran more of our one-four set. We ran so two many options. But we didn't really have what I call a good finisher. If we didn't score in transition, early in set plays and the dead ball situation, I thought we stood a lot and I wanted to really try and keep our team that is so aggressive in transition in the attack mode. I think we've done a much better job of that this year, primarily because we've learned to play without the basketball. We recruit a lot of players, the majority of their high school careers it's in their hands. So now they have to learn to play without the ball and to make other people better by doing so whether it's a great cut, or a great screen, or a smart read. That's made us better.
KARA LAWSON: As far as the offense when the team really grasped it, it was a hard season because it was new for all of us. All five players had to move, be able to pass, set screens and make reads. I will say probably about the middle of January is when we really hit a rhythm offensively and really felt like we took ownership of the offense and really knelt like it was our offense and started just playing instead of worrying about the pattern. I think with the motion offenses if you can't get too concerned if you are not making the correct reads; now we just play.
Q. Q. Coach Summitt, not to take anything away from the rest of the team, it takes talent to get to this point, every year the teams in the Final Four have a great guard and have a guard who is capable of taking over a game. Obviously in this game there is two great guards in Kara and Alana? Will you comment to similarities between their games and the difference between their games?
COACH SUMMITT: I think guard play is very important obviously to the success of any team. In particular I would say with Kara who has leadership, her ability to bring not only from a vocal standpoint, but she is very much and an emotional leader. I am really proud of her improvement on the defensive end. She has really played both ends with great intensity and ignited our defense with her attitude. Offensively certainly she has been a go-to player. I think again and Kara understands they have to make big plays in the post-season. The important thing is they both want the ball. They will share it. If you want to go to them you know that they want it and they are just great competitors and certainly Kara has demonstrated that throughout her four years. It appears to me that she is a go-to player for Duke and rightfully so. She plays a lot of the dribble. That's one thing that Kara has adds more to her game, but I like Kara's ability to come off screens and shoot the 3. I think that's where she has really improved from last year to this year; just getting square and knocking down the open 3's. Maybe that would be a little bit of difference in their game but there is no coach in America that wouldn't want to have Kara and Alana on their team.
Q. Q. Speaking of Alana, I guess there has been so much made of her desire as a high schooler to come to Tennessee. You can't be everywhere all the time, was there a mistake made?
COACH SUMMITT: We blew it. I'm glad I still have my job and my assistants still have theirs. They are probably more thankful than I am.
Q. Q. To get an idea of how far the men's game has come, can you tell us your favorite stories about what it was like to travel or play in front of so many fans when you were a younger coach. What are your favorite stories from the old days?
COACH SUMMITT: There is a lot since I have traveled a lot in vans. I'm sure it was illegal to put 18 people in a 15 passenger van. It probably wasn't even smart for me to be the driver. We would drive down to Mississippi to the women's college. Mississippi Women'S College or something. Mississippi For Women; Debbie was with me. And we always would usually try to find a cafeteria to eat our one big meal of the day. We had four people to a room. Very small budget. When it was over we would drive all night because we really couldn't afford another day in a hotel and we wanted to get back for class. I look back on those days, I think it really helps you appreciate what these student athletes have now, the luxury of charting and not missing classes and not having to ride with someone who is not a real good driver to begin with and stay up all night just to keep their eyes on the road as well. And they stay in fine hotels and eat great food and enjoy it and not having to be concerned with the finances. But there was some good things that came out of that. We spent a lot of time together in close quarters and made it work. I just really am proud of what's happened in women's basketball and I think those long van rides and those experiences now as I look back on them just make me really appreciate the growth of the game.
Q. Q. I'd like to ask the players because you have both been to more than one Final Four at Tennessee. What lessons from your previous Final Four's are you going take into the game tomorrow night.
GWEN JACKSON: Definitely being that me and Kara have been here twice before this makes our third time you learn over the years about experience and how to negate all of the things that have happened over the course of the season and look at that the good things. Although we didn't win either championship when we made it to the Final Four we learned valuable lessons about a team effort and a team win and being together as a team and being focused. I think for a lot of us it is how you mentally prepare yourself, and I think we prepared ourselves so much for the game during the season that I don't think we have to do anything different now, play our game, play the type of game that we played. We have an very unselfish team. We are very unselfish people and we work hard together and that's what makes us special.
KARA LAWSON: I think the biggest lesson for me, that I learned the last two Final Four's is just being able to focus and handle other off-the-court things and being here at the gym for four hours and just going through all of the things that you have to do and still being able to focus on the game with all of your family in town and everyone the calling you and all of those distractions. So I think just being heard for the third time I learned how to block those out and focus on what we need to focus on and that is playing the game tomorrow.
Q. Q. I know you are very close with Jane Albright and I just wonder if she has been in touch with you; maybe you could give her some advice on her next career move and comment on the situation at Wisconsin what happened to her?
COACH SUMMITT: Jane and I are very good friends, and I have talked with her a number of times. Obviously, she knows right now that I am pretty focussed and my cell phone is off more than it's on. But she is a great person. Obviously, I hurt for her. I was just disappointed that she couldn't have a chance to maybe turn things around because I thought this was one of their better coaching jobs this year. But she is a great person and she has had a lot of experience and she will land on her feet and be back in this profession.
Q. Q. For both players, can you talk about the focus you all have right now, looking at your practice today out there your one hour there was no laughing, there was no joking, it was all serious, knowing when you walked on the court, can you talk about the attitude have you right now?
GWEN JACKSON: We laugh so much off the court that once we get on the court we have gotten it all out. We are focused, we or in motion. I think how you prepare yourself in practice determines how you are going to play in the game. That's the approach we have taken all year. Definitely you can look at each other's faces and look at the attitude of our team and you can tell all 11 of us including the coaching staff and managers are on a mission to win. We are not content in being here once we step to court; it's all about business and everything else that's off the court we don't bring it on the court and definitely we are focussed and we work hard on our drills and I think definitely we try to do that so that once we begin the game we don't have anything to think about; we can just play.
KARA LAWSON: I think we know that has been the key to our success in the previous four games in the NCAA tournament. We have been playing pretty well lately, that's been because of our focus and practice and because of our preparation in scouting and game day shoot around. And so we have taken that approach and have seen the success and so we just want to continue that here at that time Final Four.
Q. Q. Gail Goestenkors has actually said given the way you guys are playing and the way her team has struggled to get to this point she considers her team to be the underdog, I wonder if you are buying that given your record and the first time you guys met this season?
COACH SUMMITT: I was a little surprised. They beat us by 21. We were never after the last four minutes of the first half the wheels came off and Duke had their way with Tennessee. I will say this about Duke. It's called survive and advance in post season. A lot of people said, well, should have lost -- they could have lost and all I say is they didn't. They know how to win. We know we are playing a great basketball team. We think we are a lot better team than when we played them back in November, but we know that they are team that has also had a lot of basketball games and with an exception of one loss figured out a way to win. I don't know how we could be a favorite when there is four teams here and we lost to the other three. But it really doesn't matter.
Q. Q. Kara and Gwen, in reference to the first Duke game that you guys played, I'm wondering how much that is still ingrained in your mind and whether that's something that you guys actually, you know, still remember and will you use it for motivation and whether it's so long ago that you don't really consider it relevant?
GWEN JACKSON: For me when I look at it, it was the beginning of the season. We just put in a new offense, we were just getting used to each other and playing. I myself didn't play the game I had be playing. When I look back at that game I try not to focus on the bad things but take the good things out of it and bring it into this game. We are a new team. That was five months ago. I'm not focussed on when we lost to Duke by 21 in November but how we can bring what we have been doing throughout the course of the season into this game and go from there.
KARA LAWSON: I think we remember it. I think our team has learned so much from our losses this year. Certainly we know that that happened. It was the beginning of the year and we are a different team and they are a different team and the mistakes are a lot higher this time. We are just excited at the opportunity to play them again. I think any time you incur a loss like that you want the opportunity to play again and try to come out with a win. I think we are just excited at the opportunity of getting to face them again.
Q. Q. This is for Pat. I'm sure for Pat Summitt, Tennessee basketball coach it's good that Tennessee, Connecticut, and Duke in recent years are talking about as perpetual teams coming here but for the good of the sport is it good that one, two, three suspects are usually always talked about to get to this level?
COACH SUMMITT: I think that we're always thinking that parody and new teams would be better. At least that's what they say; I haven't figured out who they are. I think that with the recognition of a Tennessee and a Connecticut and a Duke and even a Texas, Jody Conrad is no stranger to Final Four's and knows how to win a championship. I think that that brings to me a great excitement and a lot of recognition to Atlanta this weekend. From that standpoint it is very positive and very good for our game.
Q. Q. Everybody knows about Beard and Tillis obviously; how difficult is it to prepare when you don't really know who that third option, third scorer, third rebounder for them is going to be; it could be anybody?
COACH SUMMITT: It could. They have a lot of options, Bob. I think the thing you see when you watch Duke play it's not any one player in particular. Mistie Bass has stepped up. Without question she seems to be a player that has given them an anchor at times on the block. But they got some people to knock down the three and make a big play. But we're not the kind of team that guards three people and leaves two open. That's not usually our strategy. We like to play people straight up and bring the pressure. We will focus at times on there go-to people in certain schemes. But in particular I think we are known for our pressure man-to-man defense.
Q. Q. Pat, just to clear up the record, would you characterize your program as the "evil empire" or is that just a gross mischaracterization?
COACH SUMMITT: I never characterize our program as that you will have to talk to the person that did.
Q. Q. Similar question, a few years ago Tennessee was considered the team that you had to go through to win a National Championship; has that changed maybe towards the other evil empire?
COACH SUMMITT: Who might that be?
Q. Q. In the Northeast.
COACH SUMMITT: I will say this: I think Tennessee in '96, '97 and '98 and maybe even '99 had clearly the most dominant program year in and year out. I think obviously in 2000 with Connecticut win the championship and certainly with Notre Dame but Connecticut was in that Final Four and then turn around and one another championship last year, I think you saw them have a run similar to ours. I mean they won 2 out of 3. This year, I don't think it's a clear cut situation here, I think you have 4 teams, and I think each of those would have an opportunity, or a legitimate shot at taking home the national championship trophy. From that standpoint, I think things have changed a little bit this year but we will find out, we will know a lot more Tuesday night.
Q. Q. I spoke to each of ESPN talent, what's the hottest team, Texas or Tennessee, No. 1 mentioned UConn, some people are perceiving them as an underdog, Coach Auriemma doesn't think they have a chance of winning; what do you consider them assuming this underdog rolling?
COACH SUMMITT: I think Geno and Gail both like that role. Teams right now that are here as I said, I think anyone of the four can win it. I think Geno has done a tremendous job losing four starters and bringing in his veteran players, obviously he starts for veterans, with Diana Taurasi, that makes them obviously more than just a young team, makes them very explosive and dangerous. I certainly say with Duke the same thing, you can't overlook the fact that they have two all-Americans and obviously a great supporting cast. It doesn't matter; top dog, underdog, what players is how you play here and our basketball team is playing terrific the last three games. I'm just excited about how they are playing and hope we can keep on playing at that level. If we can play the defense and rebound the ball and have the inside game that we have had to this point, I like our chances.
Q. Q. Are you planning any special strategy against a Alana Beard?
COACH SUMMITT: You think I should tell you, Ashley? (Laughter) No, I think more than anything we are just going to have to have key matchups. We are going to have to make sure that we have our best offender or defenders. I don't think it's one person that can make that assignment and make that happen for 40 minutes. Obviously as a team we have to have great help. Everybody is not a catch and shoot player. She is going to create and get inside our defense at times. We have to have strong support for that.
Q. Q. You said a few minutes ago you turned your cell phone off this week, Mickey said she has 2 cell phones going with Kentucky and Tennessee?
COACH SUMMITT: She lost her Tennessee phone.
Q. Q. Talk about her coming into this and what she has been going through, it will be different without her after this week?
COACH SUMMITT: We are all really proud for Mickey and she has more than paid her dues at Tennessee, paid her dues. She has been more than just a recruiter. She is known as a recruiter. The players can tell you she does a great job on the court of teaching, breaking down and really teaching the fundamentals. I think that she is going to do a great job at Kentucky. I think they are very committed now to their women's basketball program. The thing I would want everyone to know, I think she stayed not only because we want her to, but because she wanted to. She said I don't want to do anything to in any way disrupt what we have here. We have great chemistry with our team and staff. She recruited all of these players. She said I would like nothing better than to leave here with a 7th National Championship. We have 3 seniors. Again, Kara and Mickie. It took Mickie 18 years to graduate. It takes some longer than others. I know she will do great things. I appreciate her being on the bench. I did not want to take her off the bench and bring in someone new or disrupt our staff either. I know I will miss her next year. I do appreciate her being here with us for this opportunity.
Q. Q. Kara, you have lived a lifetime in these Final Four's. Does this one feel any different, what is your mindset as you go into your last Final Four?
KARA LAWSON: To me it doesn't really feel like a Final Four. We took the bus down here. That was kind of weird.
COACH SUMMITT: It was like we were going to Nashville.
KARA LAWSON: Yes, just like we were going down the to road to play a conference game. It's been pretty low key this time. I think that's because I'm better able to handle distractions. But it just feels like another game. There has definitely been a greater sense of urgency for both Geno and myself as the tournament started because this is a do or die point as far as any game that we play in this tournament. It could be our last game of our career. So we have had that feeling, that extra push, the entire NCAA tournament, but this just doesn't really feel like a Final Four to me. It just kind of feels like another game that we're playing.
Q. Q. I'm just curious, in the history of Tennessee can you recall another Final Four where you have already played the other 3 teams that you have here?
COACH SUMMITT: And lost to all 3.
Q. Q. I didn't want to bring that up.
COACH SUMMITT: Trust me, I haven't forgotten it. No. But there has been several that we have gone and had more losses than the other 3 teams combined. As a matter of fact our first championship in '87 in Austin we went in and had more losses than the other 3 teams combined. I think we were going into the tournament we were -- what were we Debbie, 10th. I also remember in '97 when we had to play in the first round of the SEC tournament for the first time in the history of our program. We had 9 losses going into that and then we had our 10th loss in the tournament in the semis. We went in as the third seed that year.
Q. Q. Coach, there was so much made about the predetermined sites and what possibly could happen, how it might affect the tournament, now that you can look back over that situation how would access the way those worked out this year?
COACH SUMMITT: It's interesting, I don't think any of us, long range want to keep the format that it is. I think that all of us want to eventually move to neutral sites. The home court didn't manage to keep everyone alive obviously and that was the big concern because it is an advantage, a distinct advantage. And while I think their probably would be a number of people that would tell you they are surprised at some of the home court upset, I think that again we all want to move away and eventually get to neutral sites. A lot of teams were tough and played tough on the home courts and survived and advanced.
Q. Q. You mentioned '87 Final Four, the year you guys won your first title and the last year Texas was in the Final Four. Can you talk about what Texas meant to women's basketball back then, them getting back to a Final Four and that there are 2 coaches with 800 plus victories in this Final Four?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, I really was surprised myself to learn that it had been 16 years, and I think that's just because we compete with Texas every year and we lost 2 in the past two seasons and we have so much respect for Jody Conradt. I know their 2 teams. It's an outstanding program and with the respect I think even I forgotten how long it had been since they had been to a Final Four but let's keep in mind she had a lot on her plate as the athletic director there and as the basketball coach. I can't imagine how she managed that. Now that she has focussed strictly on coaching her team and recruiting for the basketball program I think you will see what happened in a relatively short period of time. I'm happy for Jody. She has meant a lot to this game. Certainly she has been professional friend throughout my career and I'm just really proud for her.
Q. Q. Again, in your 4 NCAA tournament victories your team has outrebounded your rivals by 16 a game what has contributed to that? When you look at the matchups for tomorrow, do you feel that your inside people are going to be stronger, tougher, more aggressive that you have an edge on Duke?
ALANA BEARD: In a way definitely you have to smile. She's working hard. When you see a teammate working that hard to get on the boards it makes you want to work harder and help her out. As far as our inside game, I think we have a total package inside game. We can shoot from the outside, we can take you off the dribble, post up. As far as the game goes for tomorrow I think rebounding and defense are the keys for our team and that's what we are going to focus on.
End of FastScripts...