April 3, 2004
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
DEBBIE BYRNE: If you'll give us an opening statement and we'll ask the kids questions first.
PAT SUMMITT: Obviously we're proud of our basketball team at Tennessee and excited to be here at the Final Four. And to have a challenge of playing allow LSU team, that we have tremendous respect for and obviously they played well to get here and they had their challenges and certainly we had ours. And we're just really looking forward to preparing and going and playing.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Questions for the student athletes first, please.
Q. For any of the players, and specifically Tasha, considering the way you have won the last two games, is there a little feeling of destiny going through you all for Tennessee this year?
TASHA BUTTS: I don't know if it's a feeling of destiny. A lot of people may think that those two games that we're satisfied, yes, we're happy that we won, but it's no way that we should win that way. I think we are a much better team than a last-second shot. But I think that our team, we do deserve to win. We have been through so much this year. A lot of hard work, a lot of adversity. We faced so much and we dealt with all of them. But I don't know if it's destiny, but I think we deserve it.
Q. For any of the players, how do you deal with Seimone Augustus and do you know who is going to be mostly dealing with her for you guys?
TASHA BUTTS: I guess I can take that one, since I'm starting out on her. I just think she's a great player and anytime you're guarding a great player, I think you just have to make it hard for them to touch the ball or even just make them take the most difficult shot. But she's a scorer, she's going to score. But we just have to try to limit her touches and just play our game. Play Tennessee defense and do the little things that it takes. And guard her as a committee. Don't hang one person out to dry. And you think that's what we have been doing all season. Guarding one person with five people. And that's what we're going to have to do.
Q. This is for Tasha, Tasha, coming on the way you have, can you talk about how your confidence has grown? Did you ask for the ball in the last game, last second like that?
TASHA BUTTS: I was playing point the whole game, so I guess it was fitting to have the point guard have the ball. I was just, I think I was one of the penetrators that was on the court. So I either was going to penetrate to get a teammate open or penetrate for an open shot. And Stanford did a great job of not helping off of our shooter, so I guess it was fitting that I would take the last shot. But I'm very confident right now. I think I'm more confident as a point guard than I have been the whole season. I think that I guess due to Coach, she's been telling me that I can do this and I'm a great player and then my teammates they have been believing in me, so I think that right now my confidence level is very high.
Q. For the players, this kind of obviously is Coach Summitt's team and she gets the lion's share of the credit, but can you guys talk about how much of a role the assistant coaches take in the day-to-day operations and the practice and maybe how much you guys trust them in addition to Coach Summitt.
ASHLEY ROBINSON: I think, well, two of our assistants are ex-Tennessee basketball players, so we know they know the system. And they were coached under Coach Summitt, so we really trust them in what Holly and Nikki has to say. And Greg is so smart, he can break everything down and makes things so simple and we have so much confidence in all of our coaches because we know that if that you are under Coach, then they must be that smart and then with Nikki and Holly again being ex-Tennessee players, it just makes it a lot easier for us because we know they know what we're going through. And if we do what they tell us to do, it just works out. So I guess by experience with them and them telling us to do one thing and we do it and just success with what they say just really makes us trust in them.
Q. Ashley, if you can answer this, we just talked to LSU's players and coaches and talked to them about what they felt like they needed to do in order to beat you. They said they need to be better on the board and what do you think about that because obviously that's your territory over there. What do you think they need to do? Actually what do you think you need to do?
ASHLEY ROBINSON: They will have to be good on the boards to beat us. But we know we're going to have to be good on the board to beat them. So it's going to be a battle on the boards, I guess, because both teams are going in there wanting to win the boards. I think we're tough and I know we're going to go out there and fight. And we know when we're playing our best game we are rebounding and I think and playing defense, so they're going to have a big challenge ahead of them. But they're a great team and I know that I see their post players rebound the ball really well. I know I'm going to have to pull out a few tricks to get rebounds. So we have a big task in front of us, but it's going to be a battle on the boards.
Q. LaToya and Tasha, since Loree's injury, how have you dealt with that stuff in the back court? Have you shuffled around roles a little bit, people doing different things than they would have before that?
LATOYA DAVIS: My role has most certainly changed. I think that when Laurie went down, it's something that I wanted to do. And I wanted to take on that challenge and step my game up. I think all of us have stepped our game up as a team. I just felt like right now I'm confident, I'm playing with a lot of energy and just doing the little things that I think can help the team as far as like playing to my strengths and rebounding. And I think I'm doing a real good job at it.
TASHA BUTTS: I think for myself I played a little bit of the point guard when Loree was here, I think I started off a little bit early on that summer in Europe. So I think I was a little bit more comfortable than some of the other people, but I think we have been taking the point guard position as we would, doing our defense. We guard every one as a committee, and at point guard we have been playing as a committee. The post players get the rebound, they dribble until they get to a guard and every guard, if you get the rebound you're dribbling up the court because our offense is not set for one person to only run it, anyone can run our offense.
Q. Candace Parker said that a certain personality type is drawn to Tennessee for coach or the players. Is that true? Is there a certain type of personality that usually goes to Tennessee or end up there?
ASHLEY ROBINSON: I don't know. I just think maybe for Candace coming to Tennessee when you come here, on your visits you know that you want to be there. I think for me coming to Tennessee and seeing the personality of everybody, I couldn't look Coach in the eyes and tell her I didn't want to be there. But I could look every other coach and tell them that that may not be the place for me. And I think we are really loving and we're a big family and no matter what people say about Tennessee, we love each other and Pat's like our mom. Holly and Nikki and Greg are like our aunt and uncles. And we're all like sisters. And we have so much fun and we enjoy each other and this is one of the best experiences I think I'll ever experience in my life. So I think what Candace meant by that was it's a loving environment and whenever you come here, and you just decide that this is where you want to be, you feel it and you know that you can't tell Tennessee no. Because you know you're going to be loved and you know you're going to grow as a person. So it is just a great place and the personality is really loving and just you can always exceed by being at Tennessee.
Q. A lot's been made about the fact that LSU is so close here. But they only got 850 tickets and they think it might be a big Tennessee crowd tomorrow night. Can you talk about whether you expect that?
TASHA BUTTS: I really don't know. From what I thought that the ticket was pretty, I think, distributed evenly. So I don't know if one team is going to have more fans than another team. But you can almost -- I think LSU they have 850 people, but they're playing, to me they're playing on their home court. But I think every one has pretty much even fans. I think that's the way they try to make it.
Q. Tasha, you guys as seniors have sort of been overshadowed throughout your careers, does this feel particularly good for all three of you up there to be the ones of this class to lead Tennessee back to a Final Four?
TASHA BUTTS: I think so. Because we worked so hard. We all worked hard in the summer and I think at the beginning of the season we kind of established ourself early to let the team know that we're going to be leaders for you, we're going to be there for you. And we're going to do everything that it takes. Particularly in practice. I think you have to start off well in practice in order to do the things in a game. We always make the joke of we're going to leave our mark somehow. And we have yet to win a national championship, yet to win a SEC tournament so I think that we failed at our SEC tournament but we have one more try at a National Championship and that's what we're going at. And I think that we realize what our task is at hand and we're not going to stop until we get it.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Final question? All right. Ladies, you can head back to your locker room. Questions for Pat.
Q. Coach, I'm wondering if it had been your destiny to Coach 40 years and win 700 games and never be in a Final Four and you get a team there and then you couldn't participate because of illness. I'm wondering how you would have felt about that.
PAT SUMMITT: Well, obviously Sue Gunter is a dear friend of mine. And I had the pleasure to play for Coach Gunter. To sit beside her on the bench and in the pre-Olympic tournament in 1980 when we had a boycott, so she's our Olympic Coach but doesn't get to go to the Olympic games. And now she has made a tremendous contribution to women's basketball. And I don't know -- I have never heard anyone say an unkind word about Sue Gunter. She has been a friend and a mentor to a lot of people, including myself. And it breaks my heart that she cannot be on the bench. Because of all that she's meant to so many players and coaches and just people that love this game. Obviously that doesn't seem fair. Life isn't always fair. And this does not seem fair. But the way she's handled, this is the way she handles everything and that's with a very positive, upbeat attitude and here to support her team. So I wish her the very best. I haven't had many friends in this profession that have impacted my life the way that Sue Gunter has. So she's really special.
Q. Coach, much has been made about the absence of Loree Moore and deservedly so. You hate to lose a point guard. When in your mind did this team get beyond the fact that they would not have her and begin to play as if they didn't miss her?
PAT SUMMITT: When we lost Loree, and obviously we knew we would have to make a lot of adjustments and there would be some growing pains and right after we lost her and we came back and we played at Kentucky, we were looking at a two-point game with about five minutes to go. And we managed to open it up and win it I think by eight. But even prior, I think it was actually prior to going there, no, it was when we returned, we played Duke, then we go to Kentucky, then we come back home and we play Auburn, which I think has one of the best match-up defenses in the game. And Tasha Butts, this was a turning point for her, with two seconds left to go, she hits a baseline jumper to put the game in overtime. And I saw a team in overtime that I thought was really stepping up. Then we play Connecticut at home and obviously I felt we started out fairly well, but we didn't make enough big plays. I thought we played very slow and very methodical and did not compete on the boards the way that we had been. Maybe it was, you know, obviously they played exceptional basketball, but we didn't match the intensity. So from that point on you're thinking, what's going to happen, we play South Carolina, but when I saw the big change was when we won at Georgia. Because Georgia has one of the quickest back courts in the country and obviously a go-to player in the paint. And we come back from there on Thursday night and turn around and go to Nashville and play Vanderbilt on Sunday. And that game went to the wire. And I still don't know how we won that game. But we found a way to win it. And I thought those back-to-back wins gave our team a tremendous amount of confidence. And I thought then we can do this.
Q. They say times change and obviously from 1991 to now a lot has changed, what do you remember about being here in '91 and maybe just the atmosphere and just kind of your thoughts on back in the day.
PAT SUMMITT: Well in '91 I never got out of my hotel room except to go to the gym. Just it was a situation where we knew we had our work cut out for us, we were playing Stanford and Tara VanDerveer as she's had so many great teams, they were a very outstanding team and a big challenge for us. And then obviously we had to turn around and play in the championship game against Virginia. So it was more, I felt like we were doing homework the whole time in our preparation and that was key for us. It's interesting at that time Virginia was the team that had kept us from going back to our Final Four that we hosted in Tennessee. So it was very, very gratifying to be able to win that down the stretch. And obviously I didn't go back to the hotel room that night. We went out and celebrated. So I have fond memories of being here. But I feel like it was one of those situations where we just felt like we had to really work and study and prepare and be in the gym with this team. And pretty much we'll do that this time. I think as a coach after a while you handle it a little bit better. But it was a great win for us.
Q. Speaking about Sue, you and her had a down-to-the-wire battle for Seimone Augustus, and two years later, is this what you envisioned for them, once they landed her, did you think that was going to be the difference of them making the next level?
PAT SUMMITT: No question. I went to Seimone's last high school game that she played at home there at Capitol and I had not seen an offensive exhibition like that before or since. She had a variety of shots from three point shots to taking the ball to the rim, pull-up jumpers, she just basically put on a show. And obviously I knew then and I knew when Seimone actually called me in January to express interest in us recruiting her, because she didn't sign early. And while I knew it was a long shot, I mean I wasn't going to turn down that slight possibility that we might be able to get her at Tennessee. But I knew when Sue managed to sign her, that there would be, obviously, a tremendous impact when Seimone got to LSU. And now as a sophomore we see it and that's why they're here, in my opinion.
Q. Coach, without a Kara Lawson, without a Chamique Holdsclaw, is this one of your least distinguished teams in terms of individual accolades and what does that say about this group that's been able to get here just as all those other great teams did?
PAT SUMMITT: Well I think it says obviously we don't have the superstar. And we don't have a player that's going out every night and consistently putting up 25, 30 points a game. But what we recognize is that we do have each other. And we have some players that are very talented on this team. They understand their roles. That's important. I think when Loree went down they just really had to have a self-examination of who they were individually and what they could do individually and how they could be stronger collectively because of it. And that's been the beauty of watching this team in that they have all taken one more responsibility, sometimes as a coach you see potential in players that you feel like they don't see in themselves. And we have challenged every individual from our coaching staff, but I think more importantly they have challenged themselves and they're seeing their own potential and then they're playing well together.
Q. I'm wondering if you could imagine sitting in your living room while your team reaches a milestone from 2000 miles away, what you would feel or what you would throw or anything like that?
PAT SUMMITT: Probably with me what I would throw. Obviously I would be very proud. And I think very excited for the team and proud of the team. And I feel really good about the staff, because the staff has done a great job to keep this team together focused and obviously to have them playing their best basketball at this time of the year.
Q. In light of that question about the makeup of your team, did you feel disparaged at all about some of the comments that were made after the regional finals about the nature of your wins and how you advanced here? There were some things that were said that weren't quite complimentary. How do you feel about that?
PAT SUMMITT: Well, obviously I was upset about it. But people are entitled to their own opinion. I firmly believe that those people that are professional should be professional and be fair. And I did not feel that everyone was fair. But my main concern had to be the players. And you know what? It didn't bother them at all. It bothered me more than them. So they were mature, they ignored it. And I was so concerned because I was afraid they wouldn't ignore it.
Q. Coach, two questions, what do you remember of Pokey Chatman, the player, who is All-American in 1991 and did you see then maybe that she might be the kind of person who could be a head coach and second, if you could talk about just how much success you guys have had against SEC teams in the NCAA tournament?
PAT SUMMITT: Well first of all, Pokey was a lot like Temeka Johnson, very quick with the ball, bringing it up the floor, create for a teammates and other people. Big play-maker. I thought the team took on her personality. And she was tough. I see, I could see her coaching most definitely. And now I see Sue Gunter Junior on the bench. Just watching her demeanor and just her interaction and in particular with the players when they come off the floor and having played for Sue and watched Sue so many years, I just see that Pokey is really handling the situation a lot like Sue Gunter would handle this. Which I think is obviously very good. Our success against SEC opponents, I just think that when you get to this point, it's all about an opponent. I don't think we think of it so much as our own conference opponent because of the stakes are a little bit higher than a regular season game. But one thing it does, it gives us a chance to have a feel for what they like to do offensively and defensively. They get that same advantage. I think it helps maybe to cut down on the preparation time of trying to figure out personnel and really study an opponent. And fortunately for us we have had some success, but this is a new year and an obviously a new challenge for us.
Q. A coach this morning said that she thought that Candace Parker's dunk might bring on what you call SportsCenter moments that might bring people in. Are you concerned about what that might mean for the sport?
PAT SUMMITT: Why would I be concerned about that?
Q. Okay. Well in a sense that the sport, this game really isn't about SportsCenter moments.
PAT SUMMITT: Right.
Q. Do you have a concern about what that might mean to the game?
PAT SUMMITT: Absolutely not. From that standpoint I mean we're still trying to educate people, to the level of play in women's basketball and the capabilities of a lot of these players. And Candace is just a player that, unlike what we have seen in the past, cannot only dunk the basketball but in a number of, in a variety of ways, and play above the rim. I think that's good for our game. Because I think the perception of a lot of people that have never really taken time to view analyze the women's game, they really don't appreciate the athleticism and the skill, the talent that so many of these players possess. And I think that can do nothing but help draw more attention to our sport.
Q. You got LSU on one side that's making their first trip, you've been here what seems like 20 or 30 times to the Final Four, what is it that keeps it from getting old for you, how do you keep yourself motivated to come back and go through all these media interviews and all of the stuff that surrounds this.
PAT SUMMITT: That's the hard part. Oh, I love what I do. I feel really, really fortunate to have found my niche. And I just love coaching. Every day I get to go work with young people. And I think they keep me young and challenged and motivated. And I've never gone into the gym and not really just felt like these are going to be the best two hours of my day. And I'm going to make the most of it. So that's what keeps bringing me back. It's the student athletes and then the challenge. Everyone talks about parity, the game is so much better, and can we stay there. It's one thing to build a program, but can you really maintain that level year in and year out, so that too is a challenge.
Q. As Diana Taurasi wraps up her career, where do you feel like she stacks up against some of the best you've seen?
PAT SUMMITT: Well I think she stacks up as clearly one of the best. When you think about her offensive game, she's one of the best offensive players and one of the most exciting players because of her passing skills and her vision is outstanding. She can nail a player on a dime. And see thinks things before anyone else sees them. And she makes everyone else on the floor better. She's as dangerous with the ball in her hand as a passer as she is obviously with her scoring ability.
Q. Just wanted to talk about the game specifically. There are so many areas obviously that you are superior in different way, how many times you've been here, all that kind of stuff, any areas that concern you, are you looking at? Because it doesn't seem that way. So are there any areas that you maybe are worried about matchup type things or within this game?
PAT SUMMITT: Well, I think that with the quickness of the guards, LSU could pose some problems for us if we don't take care of the basketball. I think first and foremost we, you turn it over, it will be a layup. So I think our guard play just making sure that we handle and make good reads. That's important. And aside from that, it's just, you have to come into a game like this and relax and play. The hard part I think is that trying to get here. And obviously we had a big challenge trying to win those two games at the regional level. And when you survive and you advance and you get here you just hope that your team then will relax and play. And not that we didn't in our last game, I thought against Stanford we really had a lot of composure and a lot of confidence as well as a lot of desire to compete. So if we have that and we take care of the ball, then I'm going to be excited about the team that takes the floor.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Pat, thank you very much.
PAT SUMMITT: Thank you.
DEBBIE BYRNE: This concludes Tennessee's press conference.
End of FastScripts...