April 7, 2003
Q. So when you all heard your Coach characterized as and the evil empire, what did you think?
KARA LAWSON: We don't really worry about what goes on between the coaches. As players we are just focussed on playing in the National Championship. This is the first National Championship game for a lot of our players, the second for Gwen and I, and none of these players up here have rings, we are focused on trying to win the National Championship, we don't worry about any of that.
Q. Out of curiosity did you understand the difference between focussed and obsessing, because if you obsess on winning the national title it can make the ball seem a lot bigger and the rim seem a lot smaller tomorrow tonight?
KARA LAWSON: I think our experience in last year's Final Four has helped this team. You don't want to have overkill. At the same time you want to block out distractions, I think we made tremendous strides from last year's team to this year's team, our ability to focus and keep things in perspective. We are excited about the chance but certainly we are not going to have overkill. We just want to keep things fresh and keep things short and just seize the moment.
Q. It's difficult to reflect on what is going to happen in tomorrow's game in terms of it being a rematch. When you reflect back on the last game between UConn and Tennessee, can you talk a little bit about how your team has grown and how your game has improved?
GWEN JACKSON: I think definitely when you look at the last game we played at UConn. My teammates did a wonderful job of playing. I didn't step up to play. I had 2 points. My coach forced what was work, I didn't blame her. I didn't show up to play. You try to look at it and learn, and I think that my focus and my roll to this team is to step up, make big plays, play defenses and get to the boards and I think that's what we are focussed on more than worrying about it as a team.
Q. Even though you guys had a tough game last night after Duke and it looked like Texas was going to beat Connecticut, did it seem this was predestined to happen, Tennessee and UConn, the dominant teams of last year going for the championship?
TASHA BUTTS: I don't think if it was predestined; that's the way things happened. UConn made big plays when it happened, and for us we made big plays when it happened. If you take all four teams here we lost to every team here. We were excited about playing any team that was here. I think you have two game teams that know how to make big plays and know how to win, I think that's what happened last night.
Q. For any of the players, you have a team full of great players, you played a tough schedule, you see the best players in the country every year; what do you think separates Diana Taurasi from the other players that you have seen?
KARA LAWSON: I think her courage and willingness to take the big shot. She is fearless in that respect, and I think that she takes on a lot of responsibility but she is confident that she can handle it for her team. You saw that last night, when they needed a basket, when they were down 6 or 4 they went to here and she came through, they depend a lot on her, she has come through time and time again. I think she deals with her role that she has for her team. She is the best at fulfilling her roll.
Q. Laurie, I would like to ask you, Kara and Gwen have been through the Connecticut wars for a few years, this is new to you; what are you taking from Raleigh, Ohio; is it impacting you?
LOREE MOORE: It's just tradition, it's a great environment and a great experience just to be able to play. It is a great feeling. I really don't know. It's fun to be in that environment.
Q. For Gwen and Kara, watching the game last night, the second game last night, was this the matchup, the outcome you were looking for and the matchup you were hoping for on Tuesday?
GWEN JACKSON: I think I can speak for me and Kara when I say it didn't matter who we played. We wanted to play the best team and we wanted to prepare ourselves to play. Any time you come to the Final Four anything can happen. In the course of the game you have to make plays and make things happen. Speaking for myself and hopefully for Kara it doesn't matter who we play; we are going to bring in our A-game and concentrate on Tennessee.
Q. This is also for Kara and Gwen, you just talked about Taurasi and how she fulfills her role. You have seen her four or five times over the past few years; how do you slow her down?
KARA LAWSON: Well, we played a lot of great players this year. We are used to seeing a player that has the ability to put their team on their shoulders. You know they are going to get some points and they are going to make plays. You don't totally shut a player like her down. What we try to do defensively is make her work, limit her touches. If they get shots make sure they are contested and make them work to the other end as well. Great offensive players you want to make them work on defense to. That's our game plan going in. We talk about it. It takes team defense to stop a great player; not a person who is assigned to defensive assignments. That's the way we approach the game and, of course, when it gets down to it they are going to look for her and we are going to try to keep the ball out of her hands as much as we can.
Q. You watched them yesterday; what does Connecticut do that concerns you or that impresses you, if anything and how will you respond to it?
KARA LAWSON: I think that our focus is always on ourselves and so we want to win the battle of the boards. That's one thing that they did very well last night is rebound the basketball, they got it from a number of different of people, you can't talk about them offensively, of Taurasi and the plays she makes. Defensively we are going to have to try to affect their offense. You know, we want to make them play defense too and get out in our transition, so we look at it as what our goals are for the game and how we try to impact their goals for their game.
Q. In your last game against Connecticut, can you talk about Gwen's performance in that game and her performance in this tournament so far and why that is important tomorrow night?
COACH SUMMITT: In the first game Gwen let her offense, let the physical play affect her game. Intentionally, Shyra Ely was playing well. I thought it was a turning point. I got on the bus before we caught our charter, I went straight to Gwen and I said no need to worry. You're in the lineup, and you are going to stay in the lineup. But when you play the way you're playing you're not going to stay on the court. You let your offense affect the rest of your game and you're so much bigger and better than them. She has been super. I think Gwen is as focussed as anybody on our basketball team and is confident. You have to have your confidence and maintain that attitude throughout post-season if you want to play the way she is playing.
Q. Coach, last year, in the game you marvelled at the Connecticut game, the way they passed, the way they executed, that was a fairly unique group, we all understand that. What stands out about this group as Connecticut, why are they back here if they were supposed to be this young and inexperienced?
COACH SUMMITT: I think it's important to note that they start 4 veterans, and while they are super-talented and Geno has done a great job in bringing the young players along, there veterans are the ones to me that have shown them the way. They are physically very, very opposing in the inside game. As a team overall, I thought last night their post defense really disrupted Texas late in the game, but you know, just the physical play on the free throw situation, those were two big possessions that they just outmuscled. Then I thought they were extremely physical on their screening late in that game, got great looks. They are an excellent passing team. Gwen, I mean it's a real credit to Geno and what he has been able to get them to do. Then you have Diana Taurasi and I just think that she has so much confidence and there is an attitude about her that apparently has filtered throughout this Connecticut basketball team.
Q. Pat, I'm sure you're not going to let any coaching secrets out of the bag, you have seen Diana Taurasi four times now; how do you devise a strategy to deal with her?
COACH SUMMITT: I think Kara said it: She's a great player. If we go into that game saying we are going shut out Taurasi, let's face it, when that doesn't happen, which it doesn't happen, then what are you saying to your team? She's going to get points. She is going to get her point. She played terrific against us throughout her career, she is a tough. I think as a coaching staff and as a basketball team we have to understand her greatness and really do what we can do to maybe limit touches here or there or change defenses or whatever we need to do. We guarded Beard last night. Beard played a terrific basketball game against a lot of different defensive looks, that's what great players do. We do the best we can on Diana. And I think that's all we can ask of our team and yet we have a lot more worries other than Diana, you got to look at their inside game, you got to look at Conlon and what she is doing, stepping up. She has had a settling affect on them. So they have a lot of by balance on their team.
Q. Chamique may have been the greatest player in college basketball. Have you seen great players, does Diana represent any kind of evolution in the women's game and the way she plays, the sort of flare that she plays with, is she different than anything you seen before in any way?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, I think because she is physically so strong, she has got, as I said, a real air about her and the confidence. She is very, very skilled, and you combine that, she is just a great competitor. There are a lot of players that have all of that, but if they get in a situation like she has been in a lot of tough situations, sometimes they lose their composure. I thought she kept her cool last night when she missed some shots and missed some free throws, but she just kept doing what she needed to do, step up and made the big shots. It's exciting to go see -- not necessarily to go against -- but to see a player like that in the women's game. She brings a little bit different dimension because she is so very skilled and can play all five positions. They post her up. She can take you to the dribble. She is great off of the screen, she can catch and shoot. She has NBA range. She can do it all as a player.
Q. I know you are a football fan; is there any kind of parallel that can be drawn between Connecticut women's basketball and Florida football?
COACH SUMMITT: I think the thing I would say, certainly they are a great passing team and they have been a very successful team. Spurrier is gone, Geno is still here. But I do think this: I think that the way they can beat you on the offensive end through their passing, through their ball and player movement, they are very explosive. And certainly they are still here, and I would say that this basketball team is pretty dynamic in a lot of ways.
Q. Coach, you've talked about the importance of the season, defense over the course of the second half of the year, can you talk about the advantages and disadvantages in a season against a player like Taurasi?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, I think the season defenses sometimes allows you an opportunity to really change tempo, maybe take away some of the inside looks. I think you just have to be aware. An advantage could be you could lose 3-point shooters which we did in the first game. They got off a couple of 3-point shots. They got the ball inside on us. They really take advantage of our switches, although I thought we had some good possessions, they adjusted very quickly. So I think that would be the disadvantage. An advantage might to be change the rhythm of the game and maybe try and have other people touch the basketball and take shots.
Q. Pat, could you comment on your relationship with Geno, the ups and downs you may have had and where things stand now?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, I think a lot of people have tried to make something out of Geno and Pat's relationship. He is a coach. I'm a coach. I have tremendous respect for Geno's coaching abilities and what he has done at Connecticut. We're not talking on the phone every week. As a matter of fact we don't talk on the phone. But I would just say that I think that's what you have. You have a great rivalry and certainly a coach that I respect tremendously as a basketball coach.
Q. Coach, do you at all mind being labeled the "Evil Empire" by Geno and if you had to label his team and his personality what would it be?
COACH SUMMITT: Do I mind? Well, I have been called a lot worse in my career. But with their team I think that Geno has, you know, he has a team that plays with great confidence and they play with an attitude and I think that's a reflection of his personality. I think he has a high standard. He expects certain things and if they don't perform obviously he is not happy. And I think he just really has done a great job of just bringing up their level of play, and I think they have taken on his personality.
Q. I don't have statistical data to back it up, it always seems to me the teams that shoot better the second game inside a dome -- do you expect to shoot better tomorrow or do you expect them to shoot better?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, I hope we do. Last night at times we did not play well offensively, yes, score a lot of points if you want to beat Connecticut. I know they are going to score points. If you would have told me that Ely and Butts were going to have an offensive rebound, Lawson is not going to be on her game, I would have said I don't know how we beat Duke. But we did. But hopefully now that we are in that championship game we will settle down. This is where we wanted to be. It's all about how we handle being in this game. We know what Connecticut will bring to the table and we have to match the physical play, the intensity and we got to make shots and get good looks and be tough enough and focussed enough to make some plays offensively.
Q. Pat, both teams that won last night got something out of someone off the bench. Is that almost an X factor in these games, if both teams have five starters who are equal, is that ultimately what tips these games one way or the other, a big rebound, a big point here and there, those kind of players; is that what makes these games?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, from our scouting yesterday I thought the key would be bench play. I didn't realize how big. Ashley Robinson's defense was outstanding. I thought she really had a couple of key blocks and gave us a big boost. No bigger than Brittany Jackson's play. She goes in and scores and gets her hand to ball and gets a steal, just took the ball off the dribble. I thought really gave us a lift, those two players in particular. And I do think at times it can be a determining factor in the outcome of games in post-season. We have seen that throughout our season. Last night those two players off the bench for us were huge.
Q. Last year you talked about learning a lot about yours and the team and I am wondering how you apply those lessons from last year to this year to help you get to the championship game?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, I think that one thing I will tell you, I learned a lot from last year about the value of our chemistry, just our basketball team last year we did not have the type of chemistry that we have this year of establishing a post game, something you can count on every day and every game situation. I think that's really, really important for us: Being more balanced on the offensive end. I think we have been able to establish a better balance and offensive attack. In transition we have kept our focus on being better in transition. And then I have been less tolerant of people that were not doing exactly what we expect them to do, playing up to the standard, and rather than drag that out I just had to sit people at times and play with the people that really wanted to compete and execute the way that we want them to. This has been a great group. I have had so much fun. I just think they had the right mindset from day one after we lost to Connecticut last year, we were pretty devastated but we turned that going into the gym and working hard and having a hole different attitude and approach to getting better.
Q. Last night Gwen started off so well and then kind of disappeared until the end and then kind of took over; is that typical of her this season and does she to be your Taurasi tomorrow for you guys to win?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, she is going to certainly need to play a great game. I'm not sure that it was Gwen disappearing or the ball disappearing from her; I don't think we did a good job in a few stretches in getting the ball in Gwen's hands. That's what we have to be aware of. I'm not saying she is our Taurasi. I think Kara Lawson has to play at a different level in the championship game for us to win this game. And I felt like maybe when we were struggling on the perimeter we were struggling to get the ball inside at times, to. We have to be mindful of our two seniors and getting them involved and getting them some touches and they have to make the plays.
Q. You have been here so many times now and won so many times, how is this one different and how is the desire different, or is it?
COACH SUMMITT: It is different. It is different. My desire is to help this basketball team prepare and be the best they can be and to manage the game so that we can be successful and handle whatever comes up, and the necessary changes. You know, I told people this, I have been very, very fortunate. You can coach a lifetime and never get to a Final Four or win a championship. There was times as a younger coach that I felt tremendous pressure and I don't feel pressure; I feel this is a great opportunity for this particular team and I want them to be able to bring their best game to the court and relax and play the way that I know they are capable of playing. So from that standpoint my focus is strictly on helping a team that doesn't have a ring. I have six of them and it certainly is not about the coaching staff. I think we are all dedicated to helping this team.
Q. I hope this comes out right the way I ask, but --
COACH SUMMITT: It doesn't matter if it does.
Q. -- should you win the title and you have had such a wonderful career and not that you are going to retire, maybe this summer you might step back and reflect on things and think about the future for you?
COACH SUMMITT: I don't know what I would do with myself if I retired. I would drive my husband and son crazy for one and probably myself. I love this game, win or lose. It's still in me. And when it's not, I will know. I really believe that. I'm not the type of person that is going to say I'm going to retire in four years, I'm going to retire in six years. I'm going to retire when I feel I need retire. Right now I feel like coaching is something that gives me great satisfaction and gives me an opportunity to work with young people every day and help teach young women more than just basketball. I always tell them we want them to leave Tennessee with first and foremost a diploma, we hope they win the championship. We want them to be self-sufficient young women that can go and make it in whatever career they so choose.
Q. Last night Geno after the game said that he has beaten you in your last two Final Four appearances and said that the players would want revenge; do you think that your team right now is more hungry or businesslike and why?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, I think it's a combination. I think that they really want a championship but they know they have to prepare and so they have a businesslike approach to preparation, so it's a good combination. I think that sometimes people look at a rivalry like this and think that maybe, you know, it's so emotional and players are just wanting to go out and get revenge. We want to go win a ring. It wouldn't matter who we are playing, but fact that it is Connecticut, there is no question we will go in with tremendous respect and understand how successful they have been and I like it, I like the fact that we are playing someone that they are a familiar opponent. We know them, they know us and it comes down to the players have to go play and figure out how to win this game.
Q. Pat, in the January game by all rights you should have won that game; Diana had to make three shots that maybe she could maybe never replicate again?
COACH SUMMITT: Let's hope not. I don't want to see those.
Q. Do you recall what you were thinking as she is hitting these shots and can you appreciate it even if you are the opposing coach, or does it drive a dagger in?
COACH SUMMITT: The one before half time, it was an incredible shot obviously. And when we went in, I reminded our team because I knew it could take an awful lot out of us, that that was just a shot that we could not prepare for. And so don't worry about that shot. Let's focus on what we have to do at the beginning of the second half. Certainly she has the ability to make the kind of shots that really can deflate your confidence, but we really felt in that particular game that we competed really hard and really well. We even had a look at the end of the game. The bottom line is we go up 5 and we don't execute and they do. And they are a lot better right now and we are a lot better. So I think the rest of the country, or the country in women's basketball fans are going to see two great teams go ahead to head for a National Championship and two teams that are better now than they were when we played them in January, both Tennessee and Connecticut are better.
Q. Pat, do you think the game, not just the college game but also the professional game is still growing as we have been here for years and years and what changes need to be made to either continue the trend or reverse the slide?
COACH SUMMITT: I think that our game is still growing. I think that we are seeing better players, more skilled players, better athletes. Players obviously that can play up around the rim, take you to have dribble. We are seeing some great 3-point specialists. I think it's certainly -- we can get better, coaching a lot better. If you just look around this country and how many teams and the preparation you watch Texas and Connecticut last night or Tennessee and Duke and obviously four teams prepared with a lot of great talent but a lot of teamwork involved, I just think we have a more balanced teams. In order for this game to continue to grow and I have said this a number of times, is that we just have to continue to market our game to grow in terms of our fan sport. But in terms of what we were seeing now, I think we're in good shape as far as the young talent. You lookout in high school now, there is some incredibly talented eighth and ninth this graders. I think we will see more of that. Players like Taurasi and Beard move on to the pros. There will be some young players that we will she talking about.
Q. Pat, you just mentioned marketing, in your opinion why is this series, why is this rivalry good for women's basketball?
COACH SUMMITT: Because you don't have to market it. It's usually one versus one. It's usually high stakes, Regional championship, number one ranking in the country. In this case a National Championship. Teams that do have a great following, the fan sport has brought or has generated a lot of television in two programs that certainly have been very dominant in women's basketball. I think that people like to see what happens between a Tennessee and a Connecticut and it's not a situation where you really have to market because both programs are so known nationally and well respected.
Q. Coach, you addressed your players hunger for this game. Can you put into words how badly you want this game tomorrow?
COACH SUMMITT: I just want it for them. They just have been a great group. They have worked hard. They have come together. They're talented. The same would apply, I'm sure, to Connecticut. There shouldn't be a lack of motivation for anyone, any player, any coach or any spectator. I just think that this group, and I think that for our seniors, I mean certainly have so much admiration for Gwen and Kara. This is their third trip. I know without question the reason Kara Lawson and Gwen Jackson chose to come to Tennessee is they wanted to have a National Championship experience and now they are in this game and they know it's up to them to step up and play and get that ring that they have been wanting.
Q. From a coaching standpoint where do you place the importance of the first 5 minutes of each half? For a game like this is it just minute by minute?
COACH SUMMITT: Well, we try to break it into segments. We always talk about 4 minute segments. When we prepare for post-season we brought in officials and we just really focussed on, all right, we got 4 minutes and that's how we scrimmage. We play 4 minute segments, shoot free throws, go another 4 minutes. Last night we kept saying we lost this 4 minute segment, we got to win this one. I think that helps break the game down to something that is manageable, not only mentally but physically. Our team is responding well to that. If you think 40 minutes, that seems like a long time to have to play at that level of intensity at the pace of the game. We just try to break it down in segments and our team has really focussed on that.
Q. I wondered if those 2 hours coaching in the National semi-finals was as exasperating as they looked or as exasperating as you experienced coaching and what it was like to try to coach that game?
COACH SUMMITT: Actually the last 2 times we played Connecticut in the Final Four in 2, in Philadelphia and in San Antonio, it seemed like an 80 minute game. They were just better. I mean they just had better offense. They were tenacious on defense and we didn't have the kind of guard play to handle that in either of those 2 games. I think guard play is really important in the post season to be able to handle any defensive schemes you may face being the full court or half court and our guard play. They are just physically tougher than us inside. San Antonio, what I knew could happen, if we didn't step up and play well at that time was the guard position and it happened. And so it's not anything that I want to think about as I prepare this basketball team because this is a different team, and not one that I would expect to go in and not compete and not handle different situations.
Q. Pat, Geno has labeled you guys as the more talented team, do you share that opinion or is that Geno just trying to get the underdog roll?
COACH SUMMITT: I don't know. I just think that in terms of our team, which I do think a lot of people think this basketball team may be one of the deepest and more talented teams in the country. We don't have a Taurasi. That's certainly something that makes them unique in that regard. But I just think that regardless we just have to go play. And our talented people have to utilize their talents. Again, we dodged a bullet last night. We had some people that hadn't responded as well in post-season or even in some big games step up and make big plays and now we have to bring it all as a team.
Q. You have had many rivals, Tennessee has over the years, but it seems as though this thing with Connecticut has almost taken a personal quality. I was wondering is there something beyond the court. You talked earlier about the competition and the stakes being high. Is there something else going on that makes this so intense?
COACH SUMMITT: I don't know that there is something going on that makes this intense unless you respond maybe to some of the comments that have been made about our program. I do have a sense of humor, but maybe I don't have the same sense of humor as some other people. I don't think that is going to impact the game here or the rivalry. I just think the rivalry is what it is and the players have made it that. I think we just have to really focus on getting ready to play. I mean I don't feel that. We have had, let's face it, losing to Texas, Lousiana Tech, Southern Cal, Georgia, Auburn, Vanderbilt, we have had so many of those big rivalries, I'm used to it. So what happens or what is said off the court, I have been there and done that too with a number of programs, and I just try to keep my focus on what we need to do as a basketball team.
Q. You can talk about the players, Loree Moore came up big about scoring, talk about what that means to the offense in general?
COACH SUMMITT: I'm glad you asked that question. It's amazing how many games we played this year. She never gets invited to the post game press conference. Very little has been said about her. I told ESPN when we got her that her maturity and her play have been very, very significant in us being here. She pushes tempo extremely well. Her defensive plays. I thought she came up with a couple of huge steals. I just think that she has developed her offensive attack which has made her a more complete player and a complete threat on the offensive end and that dimension of her game wasn't there last year, wasn't there in early games. Her decision-making was not solid. When you go back to that UConn game we had a transition opportunity with just over 6 seconds left and she charges in the full court. Wasn't ready to make that kind of play. Now, I think she has settled down and is reading better and is managing game situations and particularly late game situations better for us.
Q. Just compare this team in terms of like team chemistry to the previous squads that you have taken to the championship game?
COACH SUMMITT: This is a special group. They really are. They are close. They are unselfish. I think that they have gone through some advesitiy which has been good, the losses, lineup changes, whatever. They just manage that well. I would compare this team to the '98 team as far as chemistry because the upper classmen in '98, they really welcomed the young players and that's what we have done here in our freshman, and are sophomores are certainly contributing. Probably our '97 championship team had the 10 losses. When it came post-season time they just had a whole different mindset about defense, rebounding and preparation. Probably those 2 teams. You have to understand '98 went undefeated. '97 had 10 losses. We were a third seed but the chemistry is very, very similar.
End of FastScripts...