April 3, 2004
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
DEBBIE BYRNE: Pokey, if you'll give us an opening statement about being in the Final Four then we're going to go to questions to the student athletes first.
DANA CHATMAN: I would start off by saying that it's still trying to sink in. And I'm asked to talk about the feeling and I don't want to not do it justice. So I just soak up the moment and try to turn the focus on these three kids sitting next to me. I think there's so many story lines are that are set in terms of players lost to graduation to injuries and specific spots, specifically our post players, to bad losses to Coach Gunter's departure from the bench, that's something that goes unnoticed. And it's a way that these kids have been able to focus and take on an arduous task in terms of the four opponents that we faced to get us to New Orleans. And these kids are what it's all about. It starts with Temeka, who has been described as the post of the program and you got Doneeka Hodges, who is Miss Consistent and then there's our Kodak All American Seimone Augustus, who is a consummate team player. And that's the start of why we are here and I thinks that's the focus of LSU Lady Tiger basketball.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Questions?
Q. I'd like to ask the players, should either you or Minnesota feel like an underdog this weekend, here at the Final Four?
TEMEKA JOHNSON: Not really. I think we all made it here both Minnesota and us. We were capable of making it here. We have made it here this far. So I don't think we should feel as an underdog. I think we should feel as one of the top four teams that's here playing for, playing in the semi finals and trying to advance to the national championship game.
Q. To sort of follow-up that, does the fact that you're playing a team that you're very familiar with, does that take some of the kind of newness out of playing because you know Tennessee well, so can you almost kind of reduce this game tomorrow night to like an SEC game?
TEMEKA JOHNSON: Yes and no. Yes, it's two SEC teams and yes, we are familiar with Tennessee, but this is a different time of the year. This is not the SEC tournament, this is not SEC performance and not SEC tournament time. So we have to distinguish between the both.
Q. For Seimone and Temeka could you both talk about how you knew the Final Four was going to be here all year long, here in New Orleans, and just you know, I know it's hard to look down the road, especially when you get into this tournament because it's a one game, do-or-die situation, but when you all went to Seattle, was there a feeling, hey, we got to win two games and then we'll play in New Orleans?
SEIMONE AUGUSTUS: Starting out this season it was kind of fun to find out where it was going to be and you kind of focus on it for the entire season. But once post play, post season hits, it's like do or die. Do you want to be here or not? And I think it gets more intense, it's more competitive just because it was in our backyard it was even more special to us to try to get here and be here.
TEMEKA JOHNSON: I agree with Seimone, it is special because it is in our backyard. But when we was in Seattle, my main focus was Texas, and then after Texas it was Georgia. And once the buzzer went off, as you can see, as I tackled Coach Chatman, that's when New Orleans hit for me.
Q. Talking about the team, Tennessee, how do you guys match up, what do you think about them now that you've seen so much on tape I'm sure already.
DONEEKA HODGES: I think Tennessee is a great basketball team. They're playing really well right now. But I think that it's basically going to be the same match-up that it was last time, last game, it's just a different game. Different environment. Different atmosphere. So we just have to approach it the same way and try to come out and execute and play the way we're capable of playing.
Q. Doneeka, you probably have watched the last-second magic that Tasha Butts has had, could you talk about her and what you look for from her?
DONEEKA HODGES: I think those plays that she made that was to keep her team in at that time. She did a great job of stepping up and leading the team and helping them win those last two games.
Q. This is for Temeka and Seimone. Can you talk about the importance of rebounding, how you guys will need to do that, especially well against Tennessee, especially in light of the last match up with them.
DONEEKA HODGES: They dominated us on the boards the last game we played. I think that showed it was very obvious. I think rebounding is going to be a very key factor in the game. So we have to come, try to come out and fight the boards as hard as we can.
SEIMONE AUGUSTUS: I'm just going to repeat most of the same things she say, but rebounding is going to be key for us. As far as limiting their second chance points and for us to get in our transition offense.
Q. Temeka, you mentioned your reaction when you found out, when the buzzer went and you tackled your coach there, can you just kind of talk about your emotions and feelings that you had now and that have you this weekend of sort of the irony of getting here after Sue has coached for so long and to physically not have her right beside you now that the Final Four is here and you're here and it's in New Orleans.
TEMEKA JOHNSON: It's hard to explain, it's hard to put the feelings into words. It really has, it really haven't sunk in. We're just happy to be here. And we're enjoying our time here. Right now is the fun part, we're enjoying it. But once we get back and away from everything, it's time to refocus once we get back to the hotel and know that the game time is tomorrow. As for Coach Gunter, she's here. We see her, we talk to her and so it really, it's really not a big change.
Q. Temeka, after the loss at the SEC tournament, can you talk a little bit about what got the team going and how you refocused at that point? Did you guys have a team meeting or anything?
TEMEKA JOHNSON: Yeah, we came together. We had a players-only meeting and it gave us the opportunity to express ourselves and now allow everybody to get an understanding of how we felt. We felt that we needed it without the coaches, because it's different with them being there with the coaches and without. Because most of the time you have to just listen to what the coaches have to say. And that's not a bad thing, but we really needed to just come together on our own and try to get things squared away before NCAA tournament started.
Q. Did you?
TEMEKA JOHNSON: We are here. (Laughter.) I think it helped. I think the meeting was a successful one. We got a lot of things out in the open and we went from there.
Q. Is there anything that you can do to help the big people down low with Shyra Ely considering how good she was the first time? Seimone I guess in particular.
SEIMONE AUGUSTUS: In order to help our post players, we're going to have to have the perimeter players and are going to have to be more aggressive on their perimeter players. Not allowing them to have an open look to feed the post. We're going to have to be more aggressive and get a hand on the ball.
Q. Seimone, your shooting percentage throughout this tournament has been outstanding, can you talk about why that is? Is that partially the offensive execution or have you taken it upon yourself as each game got bigger to perform bigger?
SEIMONE AUGUSTUS: That's just a part of our offense. I've had nice looks and I knocked them down. It's all about my teammates. They have made great screens and I've just made great cuts. But none of the points have been plays called only for me. It's just within our offense that my points came.
Q. Temeka, you mentioned having Coach Gunter here, unlike Seattle she was 28 hundred miles away, is it better now, easier for you guys to know that she's physically here and physically closer?
TEMEKA JOHNSON: Yeah. The physical part, because she's here. But when we was in Seattle she was with us. Anywhere we go, Coach Gunter travels with us, even if you have to have that little inner voice of her being inside your head, but the physical part of her being here and being able to talk to her face to face is important for us.
DEBBIE BYRNE: We're going to let these ladies go back to the locker room. So those of you who want to get additional interviews with them, please head that way and now we're going to go to questions for Pokey, please. Right here.
Q. Coach, Candace Parker won the dunk contest this week, is that significant for women's basketball, women's sports in general or is it being overblown? What's your take on that?
DANA CHATMAN: I think it's significant in terms of the attention that it's going to grab from maybe the non-women's basketball fans. I think they tune in, the casual women's basketball fan, so I think it's significant from that standpoint in terms of generating some new interest. Because women's basketball, the fans and the support it's like a cult following. Maybe the Candace Parker dunk will hook someone and once they get to know these young ladies and understand what they're all about, it's tremendous. So from that standpoint it is, but not from the standpoint of playing above the rim and everything else that goes into it. But just the attention has to be great.
Q. What are some of the things that have to change tomorrow for you to beat Tennessee in comparison to your first meeting?
DANA CHATMAN: I think some of the questions you guys ask alluded to that. And Temeka's comment regarding their domination on the boards. It's one thing to get outrebounded, another thing to get dominated. And that's the staple of Tennessee. A huge part of the reason there are six banners hanging from their arena starts there. The other is taking care of the ball. That's transition offense for Tennessee and that's another year where they excel. They're going to pressure you, force you into turnovers, we have to be strong with it and take care of it.
Q. I have a question, '91, your last time in the Final Four was in New Orleans you were the Kodak All American. Now you're back as a coach. Can you talk about that?
DANA CHATMAN: Sweet. It really is. That's the first word that comes to my mind. Not that it replaces the disappointment of '91, it just gives you a sense of enjoyment from a different perspective. It ranks up there with the best. I think it's more difficult to get here as a coach because sometimes when you play at a high level, you think it's going to be easy because players can do what you used to do. And it just speaks volumes for where our program has come.
Q. I was just wondering if you could kind of describe what this has meant to Coach Gunter, like how she reacted when you guys reached the Final Four and what her role is this weekend just kind of like chief morale officer or what she's been up to.
DANA CHATMAN: Describe her? God, I hope she doesn't read this. (Laughter.) She's like a little kid at Christmas. She's giddy, she's excited. It's difficult for our kids to answer questions because they do talk to Coach Gunter, they see her, she's there. She's just tremendously excited. She can't stop talking about things. Not for all the reasons that are great story lines but just because of all the reasons that personify Sue Gunter in terms of my disappointment in '91, now I'm stepping in and helping lead her team to Temeka's disappointment of having to sit out to the child of Baton Rouge, to Seimone, Temeka, for all those reasons she is so excited.
Q. Pokey, a lot is made of the Final Four when there's teams like Tennessee and UConn here year after year, and there's guys like you and Minnesota who are making your first appearance. Is that adjustment less accepted because of all the things you talked about for this team, all the distractions you guys have had during the course of the year and maybe to a smaller degree that it's here in New Orleans?
DANA CHATMAN: Yes. Yes. But kids have an amazing resolve. They can block everything out. I think that was shown in terms of how they approach the Texas match-up. They don't believe what they read, they really don't. They truly have a belief in each other and in their system. And that in itself neutralizes the fact that we are here for the first time. And by the same token, you're supposed to talk about a Tennessee and Connecticut. They're the measuring stick. And I think these kids understand that. That's a no-brainer.
Q. I'm curious if you at all draw any parallels in your case to Steve Fisher, who inherited a Michigan team through unexpected circumstances and took them to a championship.
DANA CHATMAN: No. Honestly not -- we don't have time. If you think about it. It's just in terms of things happen, you adjust, you move on. And the one week you have a few days to think about it is the week prior to the Final Four. So you don't have time to think about it. You focus and you move on.
Q. What's the head of the snake?
DANA CHATMAN: How many heads? Start with Pat as the head, start with their starting five, the first man off the bench, the six banners, the aura of Tennessee and -- but it's fun. It's a fun challenge. I mentioned the Tennessee being the measuring stick. Why not welcome an opportunity to go up against Tennessee at home in New Orleans. But it's several things. And that's not to minimize how effective Tennessee's been all year, I know Pat was sort of in a position in terms of people talking about what all they lost and at this level kids are amazing for in terms of competing when their backs against the wall. They didn't flinch when their starting point guard went down. That's the level we compete at. You find another way to get it done.
Q. Coach, I was wondering in '91 when that team won the SEC tournament, did you think then that you were going to make the Final Four, and did the whole Sesame Street thing then become like a depressing thing that contributed to the loss at Lamar?
DANA CHATMAN: Yes. It has to give you momentum because there's a difference and this is the ultimate compliment to Tennessee, not that they need more. But they certainly earned them. It's a difference in defeating a Tennessee in the championship game as opposed to someone else, that in itself gives you momentum in the conference as a conference against a powerful opponent and then you get to go home to New Orleans, I mean that's a story right there in itself. So, yes, and then the Big Bird, wow, I still don't watch that. Does he still exist? Is there still Big Bird? And then as a player you're not thinking about it because all you know is that we're coming off one of the biggest win's in the program's history, we can go play on the playground. That's what you're thinking at that time. But then once that game is over you're like, wow, what just happened? So at the time as a player, young, you're competitive, you think you can accomplish anything. You don't get involved in it. But in retrospect it was pretty devastating.
Q. You have the sign that's on Coach Gunter's door, why not us? When did that start and has it been something that's been a real focal point of trying to get the players to buy into?
DANA CHATMAN: Probably about almost two years now. And that's straight from Skip Bertman. I don't know. I don't have to go into Skip's background and his influence on not only his team but all the teams of LSU and in the program and under his leadership, and we would always get him to come and speak to the team. And keeping it in simple terms helps keep it in proper perspective. And we sit here and we talk about Connecticut, we talk about Tennessee, we talk about all the great programs, and you should, and then Skip just put it why not us? Why not now? And it's been with us about the last year and a half.
Q. Would you talk a little bit about Tasha Butts and though, she's won like the last two games and what that does for a team and for her play?
DANA CHATMAN: I think the results of the game and the fact that they're here tells you what it does for the entire team. But you look at Tasha and you look at her entire career, and the ups and the downs and what all players go through, but it's different when you go through that on a stage at Tennessee. It's more focus on it, and sometimes it's never as bad as it really is, but you're having to read about it. I think it just speaks volumes for Tasha and her ability to survive. And with the support of Pat and the rest of the team. It's not what I need at this time of year, Tasha, but I mean just to be able to fight through that and have to lead that team at a position, you know, she's a two guard and she's having to lead this team at the point. And she's done that. And it just helps the other players.
Q. Just going back to Coach Gunter for a second, you spent literally half your life with this woman and --
DANA CHATMAN: Wow, yeah.
Q. And she's been coaching for 40 years. Can you put into words what it means to you to know that you were the one that was on the bench that got her to this pinnacle where she's never been before, the Final Four?
DANA CHATMAN: Everything. Everything. Someone asked me, it's Tuesday night -- they posed the question, it's Tuesday night, the buzzer goes off, you're the champion, what are your thoughts? And it's Sue. Sue. That's it. It's not good print, but it's real.
Q. Involving Coach Gunter, what will be the pre-game tomorrow night? Will she say something to the team before you leave the hotel? I know there won't be a, "win one for me, guys", kind of thing from what you've told us, but what will that be like, just take us from the last time you'll see her before you come here. What will that be like?
DANA CHATMAN: It's different every time. And I think that's some of that mystery or the uniqueness of Coach Gunter is being able to assess every situation, and it's different because obviously because the stage is different, but also because the opponent is different. It's no different than my conversation with her prior to playing Georgia as opposed to playing Texas. Georgia is familiar, it's less basketball, it's different because of obviously the stage was different because of the performance last time against Tennessee, she understands that these kids don't need her to step in and say, "rebound". She wouldn't insult them. And she will get her point across in different ways individually and sometimes that's the most effective way. I'm sure that Temeka will go to her room as soon as we get back and that will they will all get their time in. And that's for her to assess. So I'll let you know.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Pokey, thank you very much. That conclude the LSU press conference.
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