April 3, 2004
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Q. Coach, there seems to be a conditioned feeling that you and Tennessee will again wind up playing for the championship game. In this season, should we not be surprised by whoever wins this tournament?
GENO AURIEMMA: I would agree with that. I would think that if this season has proven anything, it's that you can throw out all the expectations and all the previous records and all the stereotypes and all that other stuff about who should win and who the favorites are. Getting here is the hard part. Always has been, always will be. Once you get here, you can roll the dice and anything that comes up is good to go. And Minnesota and LSU, Tennessee and Connecticut have all proven that if the season ends and they're the national champions, they're all worthy of it. There's nobody here that doesn't deserve to be here.
Q. Coach, two things, one for you and one for Barbara. What do you suspect Willnett Crockett's contributions are going to have to be against the big center, and Barbara, for you, having played with Lindsay Whalen, can you compare her to Diana and in terms of her style and her impact on a team?
BARBARA TURNER: Yeah, you can, in a way. Obviously she showed that she's a big part of the team. When she was out hurt they were a below .500 team. So her contribution is really, really important. Her leadership on the floor is important, too. So in a way you can kind of compare her and Diana.
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, Willnett's going to have to be really, she's going to have to be Willnett. Willnett, her contributions to our program has always been more defensive oriented than anything else. Janel McCarville might be one of the strongest kids I've ever seen. It will be interesting to see whether or not her and Willnett can move each other. Willnett is pretty strong. I'm hoping that Willnett, with her quickness can offset some of the things that Janel does. But it's going to be a combination of Willnett and Jess and the rest of our players, I think, to help guard, obviously, such a good player.
Q. Diana, Shannon Bolden talked about an experience you guys had last summer at the Nike camp, and she said you and her played a little pick-up game every now and then. Can you talk about that and what you remember about that.
DIANA TAURASI: Yeah, we were both counselors at a Nike camp a couple summers ago. We played pick-up games. They bring in about eight college students, college players in. So we played with the kids while they were eating. So the games were good, competitive and I never met her before. She's amazing. She's real cool. The games were good. People were getting after each other. They were competitive. They were good.
Q. Coach, have you thought at all about how much things have changed for you and your program since your first Final Four in New Orleans, and also what do you remember about that first trip here?
GENO AURIEMMA: We were a lot like Minnesota was. We had a really good guard and we had a really good center who could really pass. And we beat really good teams to get here and no one knew who we were. And getting here was kind of like the thrill of a lifetime. I mean, come on, you're in the Final Four. It's just unbelievable. We practiced at Lakefront Arena, which is where the tournament was held. So yesterday I took my team over there and we walked in and I said to them, this is where the Final Four was in 1991 when we came here. And they all looked around and said, you got to be kidding. I said, no, the finals were here. And I say how many do you think it seats? And we said 11 thousand, and I said, yeah, it was about 6,500, 7,000 tickets sold. It wasn't sold out. And it's just more of what how far our program has come and the game of basketball has come. And really in a short period of time, when you think about it. Last year these kids played in front of 30,000 people and the national television thing is just unbelievable. We really didn't really get the kind of coverage that we're getting right now. The players are so much better than they were back then. So many more of them. It really, it's almost a different game, a different era. New Orleans is the same. That will never change. (Laughter.)
Q. Coach, in the last game it really didn't matter, you won, but you didn't get a lot of offensive production from anyone that's not sitting up there. How important is it to get offensive production in the Final Four from some of your role players?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, that's why they're not up here. They're not invited to any press conferences. (Laughter.) Until they each of them makes a shot they're not allowed to talk to the media. (Laughter.) You spent a lot ot time up in Connecticut.
GENO AURIEMMA: Did you write that story that Geno Auriemma's the guy and all that stuff?
Q. That's my buddy.
GENO AURIEMMA: Tell him to stop doing that. I'm getting a lot of bad phone calls. Sometimes things like that just happen. We could play tomorrow and Ann gets 25 and Maria makes five three's and D only takes 10 shots and makes five of them, and Barbara gets 10 points and 8 rebounds. That's just the kind of team that we are. Jessica Moore sometimes will go and play 30 minutes and score five points and get 8 rebounds and next game she will get 22 points and 12 rebounds. We're the kind of team that isn't really locked into like, these are our guys and you better stop these guys if you want to beat us. We kind of come into the game and we check it out and see where the match-ups are and see what we think we got going for us. And then try to go in that direction. Tomorrow will be just like that. We'll see what happens, but I guarantee if those two don't make a shot tomorrow, I'm sending them home. We got replacements waiting in the wings.
Q. This is for Geno and Diana, and this may have been asked earlier, but seeing as how Tennessee is the only No. 1 seed here, is the Evil Empire the favorite this weekend?
GENO AURIEMMA: They're always the favorite, when you think about it. I don't think there's a favorite. Just because you're a No. 1 seed, I don't think that automatically makes you the favorite. Just like I don't think Minnesota being the 7th seed makes them unlikely or impossible for them to win the thing either. I think everybody's in the same boat at this time of the year. Once you get to this point. Tennessee's the No. 1 seed because they earned it and they deserved it. And they played their way here. Minnesota's the number 7 seed and what a joke. They're the best 7th seed team in the history of college basketball because Lindsay Whalen got hurt and they lost a couple games. And had she been healthy, they might have been a No. 1 or 2 seed. You don't know. So going in, I think all that stuff's out the window right now.
Q. Coach, along the same lines of the role player, Ann didn't score any points in the last game, but talk a little bit about what she does without the ball away from the ball defensively that has been helping you.
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, people would be surprised to hear this, but Diana Taurasi is our second leading defensive rebounder. And the first one isn't sitting up here. (Laughter.) So there are some things that obviously Ann is doing that are really, really helping our team. And I think defensively because she's so long and can get in passing lanes, I think she's done a lot better job than last year in that area. Maria is Maria. She's going to play great whether it's just tomorrow or whether it's tomorrow and Tuesday, she's going to play great. She always does in these games. She will handle the ball and she won't turn it over and she will make open shots and she will play good defense and she will make her free throws at the end. To me that's how good teams are built. You can only have so many guys that want to shoot the ball every time they touch it. (Laughter.)
BARBARA TURNER: How did I know that was coming?
Q. The question for Diana and maybe Barbara both, do you feel like based on the history of the past few with as amazing a run as your program has had, when you guys step on the floor to start a game, do you almost have a maybe a mental edge over your opponents that they are thinking, I don't know if we can hang with these guys?
DIANA TAURASI: I think just the experience we have had and knowing that we have been in these big games before, I think that helps us. Knowing what to expect. How long a game is and people are going to make runs and how you react to that is ultimately if you're going to be successful. I think throughout this year we have learned a lot of things about ourselves, so in a game like that, I think we step on a court and we're confident with each other and what we can do.
BARBARA TURNER: I think we feel prepared to step out on the floor, especially this particular tournament. Our coaches have been doing a great job of preparing us for what type of team we're going to play. So I think that going in there with that confidence and your preparation, that also helps.
Q. Geno, I wanted to ask you, how much it helps for a team to have come here so many times and know what to expect in this tournament and does it give you an advantage over Minnesota since they have never been here before?
GENO AURIEMMA: I was asked that question recently. When you play someone that you're real familiar with, it can go both ways. You know them, they know you. This time of the year I'm not sure that that's that great for either team. The fact that we don't really know that much about Minnesota, I think that's probably good for us. They probably don't know that much about us is probably good for them. I think it works the same way being here a bunch of times like we have been here. I think maybe Minnesota, I told that to the players today, if they come in here like, hey, it's great to be here and play loose and just play and have fun and enjoy the experience, I mean, I don't know how you can beat that. That's the way you're supposed to play. I don't know that we have an edge because we have been here. I think that edge is going to show up, the only edge that you have is if you have better execution, if your players play better. That's the only edge I can think of. I don't know that us winning the national championship last year is going to be worth anything when we step on the court tomorrow.
Q. Coach, you answered pretty much my question, but I wanted to come at it another way, if I can. What do you like better, do you like playing a team that you haven't played, at this stage of the tournament? Do you like playing a team you haven't played or and also for the players, or would you rather play a team that you have touched before?
GENO AURIEMMA: Me personally, I don't know how they feel, me personally, I would much prefer this time of the year to be involved with teams that you've never played before. You don't know them and they don't know you. That's my preference. Because I think there's a certain amount of things that we may be able to do that if you haven't seen that before, you might not be able to react to them in time and I think when you play someone a bunch of times that they may not be as affected by that. That's my personal feeling.
BARBARA TURNER: I agree.
DIANA TAURASI: I would rather play someone we have never seen. Because it's a little bit more excitement. You don't really know what to expect. You can watch them on film all you want, but until you actually feel it on the court, you don't know what to expect.
GENO AURIEMMA: Unless it's somebody that you really hate. (Laughter.).
DIANA TAURASI: I agree. (Laughter.)
Q. Coach, the Tennessee Lady Vols, seeding aside and the names aside, was this a team that you looked at in the preseason as a team like their old juggernauts of the past or how impressive has the coaching job and the progress that they have made this year, losing Loree Moore and having some injuries and some other things, to get to this point with this team?
GENO AURIEMMA: I've always been of the opinion that any time you start your season with every single kid on your team being a first team All American, nobody should feel sorry for you. That's how people treat me. So the expectation level at Tennessee and the expectation level at Connecticut is you get to the Final Four, regardless of what kind of -- what the makeup of your team is that year. And I think what happened to them this year, losing Loree, I think the rest of the players were able to, like good players do, like good programs do, kind of just rallied around each other and started to find more within each other, I mean more people started doing more things. And the coaching staff, Pat, I think probably spread things around a little bit more and they have gotten contributions from more people than they have in the past. Ashley Robinson has had much better second half of this year than she did the first half of the year. Tasha Butts is playing much better. LaToya Davis is playing a lot more than she did early in the season. So you combine all those things and you say, at another program, maybe where the expectation level is not as high, maybe those things don't happen. But I think at places like Tennessee, that's what's expected and I think the kids and the coaching staff understand that and that's probably why they're here. I think it's the same thing when we lost the four kids the year before. We lost the four starters to the WNBA draft and everybody said, well, Connecticut is not going to be as good. Yeah, if that's another program, that might be true. But that's not the expectation level.
Q. I would like to ask the players, I believe only one team, I believe it's Tennessee has won three consecutive championships. Is that a motivation for you this weekend or is it just this is a championship this year to win?
BARBARA TURNER: I think it's just this year. The two championships before were two totally different seasons. Different things happened during those years. It was great. 2002, they were expected to win, if they didn't, then it was like a big shock and last year it was a big shock also, just because we weren't expected to win. And this year it's kind of been an up-and-down year where we have had our struggles or whatever. So I think we are just focused on this year just because of how hard it's been and not taking anything away from the two years before. But it's been really hard.
DIANA TAURASI: I think if we do win three in a row, I think we'll look back on it and it's something really special. But right now, like Barbara said, we're just worried about this year. And I mean the last two seasons were completely two different teams, so for myself, and if we look back on it five years from now and if we do win it this year, that will be something real special.
Q. Geno, how much sharper mentally has your team become since the tournament began the NCAA Tournament began and how long does a regular season become when you're trying to defend a national championship?
GENO AURIEMMA: Not a lot of people understand that. Last season these guys weren't the defending national champions. Connecticut was. The 39-0 team all left except D. So everybody had a little chip on their shoulder to prove that they were really good. So we won the whole thing, and now this year all these players are really the defending national champions. And every time they go out on the court they have got to carry that around with them for six months. I'm not sure that they really can do that, anyone can really do that unless you have an infusion of talent to kind of mix it up, put a couple more ingredients in there and we didn't do that. I don't think we got anything -- Nicole got hurt early on, so we were expecting that and that would have changed things a little bit. Our two freshmen would have really added something and they really didn't. So it was left up to the same people to do the same thing much and it's hard to do for six months. But then once that was over and done with, and we got a chance to get away from it and say, okay, we don't have to do it for six months, now we just have to do it for three weekends, six games. That's much more manageable. That's much easier to kind of sharpen your focus and zero in on what the objective is. October 18th and looking at March, that's a long way away, but March 17th, to April whatever, that's manageable. And I could tell the difference just when I talked to them and whether we were at practice and the things that I would say and the reactions that they would give me. I knew we were a different team than the team that played in the regular season.
Q. Geno, I know you've been asked before about comparisons and whether Minnesota reminds you of Notre Dame in 2001, if they remind you at all of any of your teams in the past, would it be more your first Final Four team, or the '95 national championship team?
GENO AURIEMMA: More like the '91 team, I think. But there are some similarities to our '95 team. Whenever you've got a guard like Lindsay Whalen, who kind of dominates the ball like she does and makes so many plays for everybody else, she's got a little bit of Jen Rizzotti in her, I think. So there's some similarities there. But I think I'm like everybody else, I'm kind of caught up in watching them and I can't wait to see them up close and personal. I'm really looking forward to it. If they're half as much fun to watch as in person as they are on film, they will be great to watch. I just don't know that our guys want to let them have that much fun.
Q. Coach, how does your guys' experience affect your ability just to focus on tomorrow instead of looking at it as two games?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well that's just something that I think we work on a lot is just the next one. Don't worry about what's down the road. But we won't know that. See the great thing about it is we won't know that until after tomorrow. Because if you win tomorrow, then we become even more legendary for being able to focus on the next game. If we lost tomorrow it's like, see they were looking past to Tuesday night's game. So a lot of the questions, you know, are answered based on what happens the next game. I'm a Red Sox fan. It's like Grady Little. If he goes out to the mound and takes Pedro out and the guy gives up a three-run homer, you would say he should have left in him. But if they would have won that game, nobody would have asked him the question.
Q. Diana, you've been here so many times, the UConn players, the Tennessee players are used to sitting up there. How big of an advantage is it over the kids from Minnesota and LSU just to be in this environment to be able to handle it?
DIANA TAURASI: I don't know if it's an advantage. Maybe because you're familiar with it. I feel it's an advantage because you know what to expect when you come here. How crazy it's going to be with the media. And being a city like this, you really have to focus and know when to have a good time and when you get on the court to be focused. And ultimately we are here to win two games. And I don't know if it's an advantage, but I would rather have that experience than not have it.
Q. Diana, after watching film of Minnesota, did anything surprise you about them?
DIANA TAURASI: Well, we really haven't watched any film yet. But we watched the Minnesota-Duke game and they're just real loose out there, they just play. It doesn't seem like they run plays or anything. You can tell they have real good team chemistry. They just play well. They pass the ball well, they shoot it well. And whenever you do that it is tough to stop. You when you have a kid inside that's that big and that dominant and she can pass, it makes things a little bit harder for the defense, so hopefully we're up to it.
Q. Diana and Coach, could you guys kind of address how your personal relationship has developed this year as opposed to maybe previous seasons?
DIANA TAURASI: It's been a real long year. It's been an a good year. (Laughter.) No, I mean this it's probably been the toughest year.
GENO AURIEMMA: For me. It's been a long year for me.
DIANA TAURASI: Shoot, for everyone. Probably the four years it's probably been the most difficult, not most difficult year, but just because of the losses, but that's not even that big of a deal when you really look at it. But just things we had to overcome and our relationship has grown every year. I think every year it's gotten better. We're on the same page. Our team plays really well when we're on the same page. So we're on the same page.
GENO AURIEMMA: There's a, there's a real art, no science, but there's a real art to dealing with high strung temperamental type superstars. And you can go one of two ways. You can just assume that they're high strung temperamental and have never been wrong in their whole life and want to fight with them. You can try to change them, you know. I think that people have such a misguided view, I think, of what Diana is and who she is and what she's like. I'm fortunate because I really, I think I know. I think I know. Barbara, do I know?
BARBARA TURNER: I think he knows. (Laughter.)
GENO AURIEMMA: So I know. And that allows me to see things and do things with her that someone else probably wouldn't be able to do. And that causes some problems. Because she doesn't like to deal with some things that I make her deal with. Which is fine. Because she makes me deal with things that I don't want to deal with either. And I think she's absolutely right in saying that over the course of four years it's gotten to the point where I know and she knows exactly when we're going to play bad and I know and she knows when we're going to play well. And we're pretty much in a frame of mind right now that's as good as any time we have been together in the last four years. Personally and from a basketball standpoint.
BARBARA TURNER: So are we going to play good tomorrow?
DEBBIE BYRNE: Coach and players, thank you very much.
End of FastScripts...