April 5, 2004
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Q. Coach, when Pat was in here earlier she said that you guys didn't really have a relationship and that it's not about you against her, but can you kind of talk about whatever the friction that seems to exist between Tennessee and UConn.
GENO AURIEMMA: That's two different questions. So I'm up here to answer questions about my team versus their team. So you ask me two questions. My relationship with her and the friction between UConn and Tennessee.
Q. Is there any friction in your relationship with Coach Summitt?
GENO AURIEMMA: That's irrelevant. Only thing that exists is UConn plays Tennessee. Five on five in basketball. Unless you're from People Magazine and you want a story, that's different.
Q. How much is there a sense of this is a time to complete the journey for this team as the seniors graduate and the prospects for next year, this is going to be the final chapter of this particular team?
GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah. It's ironic that you ask that because that's exactly what I was thinking this morning when I got up. I thought I wonder if the approach tomorrow should be that Barbara and Ann and Jess and Willnett and A B and all those guys are not just playing for tomorrow night, but they're also playing for next year. But then I thought, you know, that wouldn't be fair to D and Maria and Morgan. Tomorrow's just about tomorrow. It's about ending this particular season. And for D and Maria, it's a culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice and me personally, I would love for it to end the right way. But I'm sure Pat feels the same way about her seniors.
Q. Lady Vol fans have had a lot of fun with you over the years, much like the football team had with Steve Spurrier, do you see a connection there between you and Spurrier against Tennessee?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well I don't know. I don't know him. Pat says she's had him over for dinner and stuff. I don't know him. So I don't know what he's like. I do know the people at Tennessee hate him. But people don't usually hate people you beat all the time. So if they hate me because we win a lot, I would rather them hate me because we win a lot than like me because they kick our butt all the time. I guess I'm in good company.
Q. Diana, both for you and Maria, just talk about the importance of going out a winner and here you guys are once again facing a team that you both have had a lot of success against.
DIANA TAURASI: It's important. After four years of being here and just of every year being amazing and this being our last game, our last chance to kind of go out there and put the Connecticut jersey on, it means a lot to us. When you're playing for a national championship that's all you can ask for. We have worked hard these five months. Throughout the season we have had a lot of ups and downs and I think we have handled it really well. And now we're in a position to win a national championship. As a senior I don't think you go out any better way as a senior. And I don't know how Maria feels.
MARIA CONLON: That was very good.
Q. Maria, how much of your thoughts, if any, have been toward the success of the men's team and the chance that Connecticut could hit both championships?
MARIA CONLON: I don't think that we're really worrying about that as far as the way we're taking care of this here. They have their business that their taking care of in San Antonio and they handle that tonight and they have a tough game tonight. Obviously we support them and we follow them, but if they lose tonight, that's not going to affect what happens tomorrow and if both of us can pull it off, it will be a great thing for the state of Connecticut and for the program.
Q. Geno, what's the most emotional night you've experienced when losing a player whose been with you, a dominant player whose been with you for four years up to now and how do you think you'll feel or what emotions might you feel tomorrow night watching Diana finish up?
GENO AURIEMMA: I've been on both sides of that question, and I've felt both side of that emotion. When Rebecca Lobo was a senior and winning the national championship in her last game, and feeling as high and as proud as I possibly could. And the same thing with Sue Bird and Temeka and Asjha and Swin. And I remember feeling pretty devastated for Jen Rizzotti and Jamelle Elliott their senior year when we lost in the Final Four in their last game. This one I think I mean it's the end of something really special. It's the culmination, I think, of four unbelievable years. How often do you have a player that's the east regional or whatever regional MVP four years in a row? That's pretty darn good. And so in spite of there still being some doubters out there who don't think she's first team All-American.
Q. Jessica Moore, Tennessee talked today about the success that you all have had in particularly in post play against their post players, is there any particular secret to what you all have been able to do or why has your success level on the inside been what it's been against Tennessee?
JESSICA MOORE: I think that it really has to do with just our overall mental effort. I think that as the whole entire post unit we have just really put a lot of pressure on each other and ourselves to really come out and perform to really help our team out and we really do understand that we have a really big role on our team and it's really important that we fulfill it and try and go out there and do the best we can. And I like your hat. I like that blue. It's really cute. I think Coach likes it, too. (Laughter.)
Q. Geno, ESPN was showing numbers about their ratings and about for their live event programming the women's college basketball national championship is the highest rated event they have. How big is it for Tennessee and UConn to be there from a ratings standpoint for women's college basketball over and over again?
GENO AURIEMMA: This has been a really tough road to get women's basketball on national television. And to kind of grow the game, so to speak. And I remember when CBS did it and we had to play back to back games for the championship. And they didn't show any of the tournament games. That's the only chance that people had to see a big time women's basketball game. Now that ESPN has taken the entire tournament and they show -- people in the country now know what Tennessee had to go through to get here. They know their last second heroics, they know about Lindsay Whalen, they have seen other teams in the tournament. They have seen Seimone Augustus. So I think what is going to happen in the finals now is a greater sense of excitement because the people tuning in actually know who these people are because they have been following them for three weeks. And that's only been a recent thing. And I would hope that ESPN would look at that and continue to add more regular season games to their schedule and even do more for the tournament. I don't know how much better it can get, but I think it's surprised them, believe me. I don't think they thought it would be this big.
Q. Diana, you've beaten them so many times, do you think you're in their head?
DIANA TAURASI: I don't think so. In this game I don't think the past is going to affect this game at all. You have two teams that are focused and are going to go out there and play hard for 40 minutes. So I don't think if it comes down to one possession they're going to be thinking about the last five games. So I don't think it really matters. The advantage, if we do have one, is we have been in this game and they have too, so it's going to be whoever goes out there and plays the hardest and gets what they need to do and if whichever team does it is going to win. But I don't think the past five, six games are going to affect this one at all.
Q. This is for Diana. Coach Summitt said earlier that while you were still in high school she called you to gauge your interest in Tennessee. And that she got the feeling you weren't interested in coming there. Can you just give your recollection on that phone call and why you weren't interested?
DIANA TAURASI: I don't know. I just I think it was -- I was at an AAU trip and it was the Tri-City -- what is it, Kingston, what's the Tri-Cities in Tennessee?
DIANA TAURASI: Yeah. I just didn't like it. So I kind of I wasn't interested.
Q. Why not?
DIANA TAURASI: I just never was.
GENO AURIEMMA: Because when you're from California, you think UT is in the Tri-City area. She didn't know it was in Knoxville.
DIANA TAURASI: So I didn't know much about it. Growing up I just was never interested. It was just one of those things. I don't know. It just never did it for me.
Q. For Diana and Barbara. Some of the Tennessee players say they get a visceral feeling when they hear about the UConn rivalry, I think it was Shanna Zolman said, she gets a snarl on her face and there's a certain intensity, what kind of feelings do you get when you hear about Tennessee?
BARBARA TURNER: None, really. I think we just think about playing a game for 40 minutes. We don't get concerned in it or too caught up in the whole rivalry thing because that doesn't matter when it comes down to playing the game. So that's not something a that we get into.
DIANA TAURASI: Same. I mean whenever these two teams get together, everyone wants to watch these two teams. Because of the past and everything. So you can't, like Barbara said, if you get caught up in all of that, you would drive yourself crazy. So tomorrow we just have to go out there and be concerned with ourselves and what we have to do. And that's all we could worry about.
Q. Question for Geno. I was wondering if you could just talk about having the two such successful programs at Connecticut and do you guys, do you feel like you spur each other on, that your level of success has spurred them to do what they're doing, is there a little competition and/or a chemistry between the two programs? Can you just describe what it's like there?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, I'm won who hates to compare. I hate comparisons. Like I hate when they put up on the screen, you know, that whether it's me or anybody else, how many wins we have or what our winning percentage is relative to Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith and those guys, because that is just the biggest bunch of bull there ever was, to compare coaches in women's basketball to coaches in men's basketball relative to what they do against their own programs. So having said that, our men's basketball program has had an unbelievable hurdle to overcome in the last 15 years. Because of where we are and because of the tradition of the Big East, with Georgetown and Syracuse and St. John's and all the great programs that have existed. And for them to go through being a regional team to being a national contender and having already won a national championship, I just think that's just been an unbelievable, unbelievable accomplishment. At a school like Connecticut that didn't have anything like that just as recently as 15 years ago. On our end, what we have done I think it's just something that if you're the average kid playing on the men's basketball team or the women's basketball team, I think there's a sense of you wanting to be really, really good and I think every time you walk around in Gampel Pavilion, men's players and women's players walk around like we're really good and they expect to be good. And there's no room for coming in second or third or almost. And I think that rubs off on each of them.
Q. For Diana, Geno gave a little hint of the ending of his end of the relationship tomorrow between the two of you. And it's been unique. What would be your feelings tomorrow playing for him for one last time?
DIANA TAURASI: I mean, during the game it will be like always. How competitive we are and within the game it's going to be how we're going to win this game. And after the game whether we win or lose it's for me personally it's going to be, and I wouldn't say sad moment but it's going to be the last time a player and a coach after four years I've enjoyed it and I wouldn't right now. I don't know how I feel to play for anyone else. So for me it's going to be tough. And at the same time with these guys, being here four years with Maria and Jess and two years with Barbara and Ann, so that's going to be tough in itself knowing that this will be the last time we go into a game together to play. So that's probably the toughest part. After the game. So it will be emotional.
DEBBIE BYRNE: We're going to release these ladies now to their break-out sessions. All right. Questions for Coach.
Q. I've got to play People Magazine reporter here. I'm not sure we can let you off the hook that easy. Pat was bombarded with questions about you. One thing she said, at one point you had a pretty nice relationship, things went south and she said that she thought you created the relationship that exists now, meaning one that's not quite warm and fuzzy. Is it true?
GENO AURIEMMA: I just said it's irrelevant. Didn't I? Were you not here when I said that?
Q. But you are the coach that made the comment about the Evil Empire. You seemed to have initiated --
GENO AURIEMMA: That was last year. This is this year.
Q. Nothing for this year?
GENO AURIEMMA: No. You're going to have to go somewhere else to get that.
Q. Now that we have gotten to the last game with Diana, can you kind of put any kind of perspective what these four years have been like with her and just the whole entirety of her career now coming down to this final game what it's all meant to you to have her for the last four years?
GENO AURIEMMA: You just can't -- unless you're there all the time, you can't really express the emotions that go into the day-to-day interaction that you have with your players. I've always been one to take a tremendous amount of responsibility on my shoulders when it comes to the best players that come to Connecticut. And when someone like Diana Taurasi comes to Connecticut and the expectation level is you're the best high school player in the country, now I feel a tremendous sense of obligation that during the next four years she needs to become the best player in America, otherwise I've not done my job. And in addition to that, she's got to learn some things beyond basketball. And I feel like we have done that. So regardless of what happens tomorrow, I feel pretty good about what's transpired over the last four years and if I had to look back and change anything, I wouldn't change a single thing. I'm really hard on my really good players. And I only was hard on her two years. The last two have been, in spite of what people say, we had our rifts this year, I don't think you call me getting pissed for five minutes a rift. That's a shock.
Q. How crucial is Barbara Turner's role in tomorrow night's game?
GENO AURIEMMA: If she plays like she played last night, we're going to lose. That's how crucial. There's some great match-ups tomorrow night. Barbara and Shyra Ely I think is a real good one. Willnett and Jess and Ashley Robinson, I think, is a great match-up. And when you play Tennessee it usually does come down to being able to handle what's going on in the lane, at both end of the floor. You got to be able to score in the lane and you got to be able to defend and rebound in the lane. So if we can get a big-time game out of Barbara tomorrow, that I think we'll be in pretty good shape.
Q. Do you find that either fitting, ironic or what exactly are your feelings that while you're trying to win three in a row now, your last hurdle is against the only team that has won three in a row?
GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah. That's just the way it seems to work out, doesn't it? I mean, it's amazing that -- and this will put at rest, to rest all the stupid questions about us and Tennessee. So I'm glad you asked that. And somebody told me that somebody asked Pat if my car was broken down whether she would stop and help me. I would hope she said that that was the dumbest question she's ever heard. I hope she said that. When we started winning championships in 1995 when we got to be really, really good, we were like the new kids on the block. And hey, isn't it great, you know, here comes someone else and I remember a comment was made that you know, there's been a lot of newcomers, there's been a lot of people that have pretended to be good. Old Dominion was a challenger at one time, USC was a challenger at one time. Texas was a challenger at one time. Virginia was there in the Final Four, Stanford a couple times. But only Tennessee stood on the mountain top forever. And there was a sense that after a year or two we would just go away and go back to tiny Storrs and say, boy, wasn't it great to visit New York City once. But a funny thing happened, we kept coming back. And that's when things got a little bit dicey. Because we wouldn't go away. So it's only fitting that in order to win championships, I feel real good that three out of the four we have beat the team that everybody associates with the best team. The best program over the last 20 some years. So it's only fitting that if you want to win, that's who you got to beat. And if they want to win, they got to beat us.
Q. I'm going to piggyback on that slightly, Coach, in the thought that all the talk about parity this year, I mean these two teams are back in the championship. Do you feel that there was some parity in the sense that maybe your programs will have to look over your shoulders slightly or was this a hiccup in the universe and order has been restored?
GENO AURIEMMA: I don't think I would ever want to be in a situation -- like I have a lot of friends in men's basketball. That's probably another thing that bugs a lot of people in women's basketball. I have a lot of friends in men's basketball. And I talk to them a lot. And they don't have a lot of respect for the women's game. There's a reason for that. They don't feel that it's competitive. It's not that they don't think like Diana or Alana Beard or those guys are really good players. Don't get me wrong. They just think the games, the tournament, the overall atmosphere of the games are not competitive. You got three or four teams and they all win by 50 every time. And then it's just like, okay, who is going to play who in the Final Four? Well Tennessee is going to play somebody, Connecticut's going to play somebody and then every once in a while somebody will sneak in. So the best thing that could happen to our game is for exactly what happened this year, and then it's got to be added to that. There's got to be upsets. No. 1 seeds got to get knocked off. Teams like us, Tennessee, can't get to the conference tournament championships. The more that that happens, the better for everybody. I'm not one of those that is like, hey, we're on top right now and I don't want anybody to come after us. Hell, if nobody comes after us, we're going to be lousy. My players don't like playing in those kind of games. Fans don't like watching those kind of games. And we need the respect of everybody in the basketball community by having a competitive game. And it's become much more competitive than it's ever been. Regardless of the fact that the two traditional powers are playing tomorrow night. What's led up to that has been really, really good.
Q. Talking about the rebounding edge and trying to win the battle on the boards, do you see that as the common thread and in this string of victories against them you guys have?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, one of the common threads has been rebounding. But in the National Championship game last year they out rebounded us by 20 and we won. I think the common thread has been D. You know it's like no coincidence that since we got her, just like the common thread they had before that was they had Holdsclaw. So I hope Pat didn't sit up here and tell you what a good coach she was, because I'm not going to tell you what a good coach I am. When she had Chamique, they had the edge. When we have D we have the edge. Kind of simple, isn't it?
Q. If your car was broken down -- no, just kidding. (Laughter.)
GENO AURIEMMA: I would walk. (Laughter.)
Q. Obviously you had some basketball responsibilities this weekend but have you gotten to experience New Orleans at all? What have you been up to?
GENO AURIEMMA: A little bit. A little bit. I've actually low-keyed it. Yeah. I really have.
Q. Being 50?
GENO AURIEMMA: That might be part of it. My wife is not here. My daughter is down here with me on the trip. So that kind of kept me in check. But it's a bad sign when you are 50 and you get up and it's 1:30 in the morning and you've been sleeping for 2 hours, and you walk into the other room and your daughter is not home yet. (Laughter.) I'm not sure that's the winning edge, right?
Q. You thought you had Tennessee to worry about?
GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah. Yeah. So that's what I've been doing all week.
Q. The guys are in the Final Four, you're in the Final Four these programs are national powerhouses. Is the common thread, besides good coaching on both side, is the sports administration the athletic administration and Phillip Austin, what is it about the support of the athletic administration that's allowed these programs to get as far as they have had?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, there's a guy in our audience here who does our radio, Randy Levine, who played basketball at Connecticut. And in a 45-hundred seat what used to be called a gym, then you called it a field house. It was state of the art when they built it in like 1950something. And we were still playing in it in 1988 and '89. So you go back 15 years, and you take a team that was trying to compete in the Big East Conference, and you say, how in God's name could they ever accomplish that? And there were people that were saying, why are we even in the Big East? And now we have a president and we have athletic director and it's been a procession, from John Toner to all the way down to Jeff Hathaway now, of people making tough decisions about this is what we want. Because in the Northeast, you know, people don't do that. People in the Northeast, it's like if you are too good in sports, then you must have to sacrifice academics, because that's what they do all over the country. We think we have a monopoly on kids that go to class. You can do both. You can have a good sports program and have a good academic program. So we have had to convince the people up there that those two things do go hand in hand. And now I think they're seeing the results, but our administration's had to work unbelievably hard to convince everybody of that and now I don't think they would ever have it any other way. Now with our football program, you know, on the verge of going to a bowl game, I was telling somebody the other day, the whole state was in an uproar when we built a stadium and decided to fund a Division I football program. Last year they were bitching that we didn't get a bowl bid. You know that's funny how quickly things change when you're given the opportunity. And none of this would have happened if those people hadn't been in place.
Q. Coach, obviously they have an All-American and in Shyra Ely, but it seems like in some ways this Tennessee team is more than the sum of its parts. Have you seen any of these Tennessee teams come down with sort of this kind of low star power that you faced?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well she was the high school Player of the Year coming out. As was Ashley Robinson. As I said before, just like Connecticut, nobody feels sorry for Tennessee. They do have 10 first team high school All-Americans on their team. I think what's different about their team is they're a different team now than they were when we played them in January. I think they have gotten a huge boost from LaToya Davis. And I think Ashley Robinson's played a lot better down the stretch. And obviously Tasha Butts has given them another dimension that didn't exist earlier in the season. Because she's a little more offensive minded than Loree Moore, so I think losing Loree maybe hurt them a little bit defensively or in their transition game, whatever, and she is so steady, because she had been there and played that position, but I think Tasha Butts gives them another dimension that maybe they didn't have. And maybe because they don't have -- sometimes that works in your favor, you know, when like when we took Diana out of the game, you noticed last night in the first half, we ran like three or four really good things and scored. Because then they're going like this, where's D? So I think maybe that's happened with Tennessee. Last year we knew that when they needed a bucket, they were passing the ball to Kara Lawson. You knew that. So they were not that difficult to defend. Now, you know, you don't know where the ball's going to go. You don't know who is going to make a play. So it does make them a little bit more, a little more dangerous than they were before.
Q. To follow-up on the parity question, would it get better ratings tomorrow night if you were playing Minnesota or LSU say in a championship game or if they were playing each other?
GENO AURIEMMA: No.
Q. You don't think so?
GENO AURIEMMA: Nuh-huh.
Q. Why is that?
GENO AURIEMMA: Not yet. For the same reason if the Kansas City Royals are playing the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Would that get the same ratings as the Yankees and the Dodgers? I don't think so. We're just not there yet. Just like a lot of other sports aren't. People still want to see the big names, the superstars, the big, you know, it's a personality-driven kind of thing. So, yeah, have we created a story on Lindsay Whalen and Minnesota? Yeah. Has LSU created, yes. Are we there yet? I don't think so. I don't think so. But as I said before, I think we're a lot closer than we have ever been. And you know what's funny, you look at yesterday's games, it could just as easily been a Minnesota-LSU final tomorrow night. It's not like in the past when the favorites came in, rolled over the underdogs and then just had a warm-up for the finals. That certainly didn't happen last night.
Q. I actually asked Pat a bit just reflecting on parity and the quality of coaching and how that's improved and caught up with the quality of players. Can you reflect a little bit on what you've seen, I mean even the connections to Coach Borton and your view on her and how the quality has grown?
GENO AURIEMMA: Um-hum. I think there's a -- you've got a group of coaches that have been doing this for a long time. And they come in like you got the Jodie Conrads, Sue Gunter and the Pat Summitt's and Rena Portland and Theresa Greens, that group that kind of when the NCAA started in 1983, you know, really they have been there, Kay Yow, Debbie Ryan, there's a whole bunch of them. Andy Landers and Jim Foster. There's a group. And then there is a big huge gap between them and the 20-something set or the 30-something set and it's starting to be bridged a little bit, the new generation of people are taking over. And people like Pam, Kim Mulkey, Robertson, I think what's happening is -- Pokey Chatman is a great example. What they're doing is they're taking all the benefits of the coaching that they got from those people, and the fact that the level of play has improved so much, and they're applying it to the players of today. So the players are better, the coaches are more serious, in that they study more, I think they get after it a little bit more. And I think that's why you have so many more good programs. And I think athletic directors should take some of the credit and athletic administrators should take some of the credit that if they don't have a coach that they think is working hard enough and is good enough, they fire them. Whereas a few years ago it was like, hey, listen, we have a women's coach, we are a women's program, and listen, don't bother me. I think we're getting away from that. Which is really, really good.
Q. I once heard Rick Majerus refer to coaches as funny beings, odd beings who can more sharply remember defeats a lot of times than they can victories. So it's been a long, long time since you lost in this tournament. But I'm wondering if like Notre Dame in St. Louis in 2001, does that still bug you or have 17 consecutive tournament victories, do they actually chase that away? What's the makeup like?
GENO AURIEMMA: Well, you know that the old saying, "there but for the grace of God go I". I think if I was single I think I would look like Rick and probably be in a hospital with heart problems just like him. Because as a Coach I got to tell you, there is nothing that ever wipes away a defeat. Absolutely nothing. And there isn't a day that goes by that I don't look back and say, something that I probably can say about that 2001 loss. To be able to sit here and say we could be going for five in a row tomorrow night. And that just bugs the hell out of me. And I think that's indicative of how all coaches feel. You're always more tortured by the one that got away rather than the one that you got. You got to be a screwed up person to go into coaching. Most people in life are happy what they get. Coaches are the only people who are just miserable about what they let get away from them.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Other questions for the Coach? Geno, we're going to let you go.
GENO AURIEMMA: Thanks, guys.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Okay.
End of FastScripts...