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March 30, 2000

Svetlana Abrosimova

Geno Auriemma

Shea Ralph


Q. Shea, I wanted to ask you about Sue Bird and her recovery from her ACL injury, given that you've recovered from the same thing, what has it meant for you, what has it meant for the team to have her back in the lineup and playing at the level she has?

SHEA RALPH: I think that just by watching us this year as compared to last year, you can see the impact she has had on our team. She is one of the main reasons for success this year and she has been solid off and on the back court and I know that speaking for Svetlana and I, we feel very, very comfortable with her. She calls out our offenses she makes big shots and we need big shots made and she has won a lot of games for us and having her back has made a big difference and as far as recovering from her knee, you have to attribute that all to her. She had a couple questions in the beginning but once you get the ball rolling it's all up to you whether it comes back to you or not.

Q. What do you take from your past meetings and what do you apply to your game tomorrow night?

SHEA RALPH: Well, you know, it is March and it is different. Everybody has gotten better. We played Penn State in December and they were a good team. They did a lot of good things when we played them. They played very well on the post and I thought that they were special. But, you know, it's different now that it's March. They have been, you know practicing and getting better, but so have we. I guess you can't really say a lot about it until tomorrow night when we face off.

Q. For both of you, how does it feel to be in the Final 4 and the favorite? Are you hungry or are you confident?

SVETLANA ABROSIMOVA: It's our first Final 4 for this group and we are really excited to be here. It feels great. We work really hard during the year and we are finally here and it's a mix of feelings because it's lot of pressure on us. We've been team No. 1 during the year and people expect us to win but it's an NCAA Tournament, you can't put some team and say they are going to win but nobody know's what's going to happen. I'm really confident with my team because I know we are going to come out and we are going to play really hard, and what's going to happen is going to happen.

SHEA RALPH: You know, a lot of people have said a lot about the pressure that's on us we have been No. 1 the whole year and a lot has been expected from us. But I think that we are very comfortable in this position. A lot of us have been in this position most of our lives. We have a lot of great players on our team that grew up as stars in their hometown and have always had high expectations. So I think this is something that's not out of the ordinary for us. And going into this tournament, I think I'd rather be sitting in our locker room than any other.

Q. Shea, a lot of people want or seem to want a UCONN/ Tennessee matchup, is that a burden to your team that people may be overlooking your opponent tomorrow while you obviously cannot do that?

SHEA RALPH: No. It's not a burden because, you know, we understand what we have to do. It is definitely one step at a time for us. We are not looking to that Tennessee matchup yet, but I know I've heard a lot about it and there's been a lot written about it. And you can really only expect a lot of people to say that just because you know that for so many years now it's been a tradition, UCONN, Tennessee. I've heard that it's been voted the second-biggest rivalry or something on the Internet. So you can only expect for people to want to see that. I think it's just a good thing for women's basketball to even be talking about it.

Q. The fact that you had the two knee injuries and that Sue Bird also had the injury and that you've got to this point now after all that how much more special does it make it or did you ever at a time you and perhaps Sue talk about it, maybe this wouldn't happen, maybe it's just not in the cards?

SHEA RALPH: It's definitely been a tough road and I think for Sue and I, for Marci Czel who has also had a knee injury and there's been a lot of other injuries that we've suffered but I think there's a point in everybody's career that maybe a team that they are on or maybe themselves get injured and have to face obstacles like injuries. But as far as like where we've come from, I think it's just special in knowing that I've had so much support, and you know I've always had to take a couple of steps back before I was able to move forward so I know that there's probably only one more thing that I don't have that can make it more special and that's why we're here this weekend.

Q. A lot has been made that you and Coach Auriemma don't always see eye to eye on things?

SVETLANA ABROSIMOVA: It's been great the whole season, you know. Like right now I understand what he wants from me, and yes, like he's really tough on me but I got mentally tougher and it's easier for me to understand what he wants from me. And at this time of the year, like I know I have to step up. I know I have to use everything he gave to me. I learned my lessons and just the time of the year that I need just to play, not worry about him.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about playing against matchup zone defenses and things like you might see from Penn State and how you might adjust your offense for that?

SHEA RALPH: I think you'll find that with our team, we do look at the things that they do on offense and defense, but we don't really concentrate on that. We are more focused on what we are doing as opposed to how we are going to beat what they are doing. I think if we just stick with our game and be confident and play hard then things will work out for us. It's not something that we go in thinking that we have to change the way we play to accommodate for whatever they throw out at us.

Q. Do you have any advice for teenagers in foreign countries, Russia, any of the European countries that are thinking of coming over here? What do they need to know in making that decision?

SVETLANA ABROSIMOVA: A lot of people, especially in Russia, they ask me how tough is it to be here. I think the hardest part is that you have to study. Its not just playing basketball. If you want to play at a high level in college, you have to go to school, also so I think it's the hardest part. And, you know, you're far away from your family. It's all up to you and you have your own challenges and you have to make friends and you have to make friendships and just a lot of things you have to put yourself in a position, new country, new culture. It's up to you how you're going to adjust.

Q. How do you explain how you have been so successful in bringing so many all-Americans in who are so content to spend so much time on your bench and also, are you in favor of reducing the number of scholarships to perhaps level the playing field a bit in women's basketball?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Well, first let me say other than Philadelphia, Minneapolis is my favorite city in the world. Second, if you've ever been to stores and you've ever spent any time up there you would understand why so many all-Americans want to come there. It's a great place for women's basketball. It's a great place to go to school. It's a close-knit community. It's not something I say in a recruiting pitch. I go in and say, listen, I know you're an all-American, would you like to come to Connecticut and spend a lot of time on our bench. The good players play a lot, but it's like what's a lot and what are you playing for? I just appeal to their competitive instincts, and it's not for everybody. You know, not all all-Americans are created equally. Some are better than others and I give them a chance to find out what's what, and in the end, if you have good kids, it all shakes itself out. I'm sure there comes a point when it's not working any more, having 13 scholarships I do think would level the playing field a little bit. You certainly saw it happen on the men's side, and I'm not in favor of reducing scholarship aid to women, don't get me wrong but I think those two scholarships could be used in other sports, maybe so I'm not advocating a reduction of opportunity for women athletes. I've got two daughters of my own. But I'm not sure we need to have 15 players on a full scholarship on my team and I might take matters into my own hands and do it myself. Could you recount.

Q. Could you recount for us what the recruitment of Walseth and why did you decide to go in another direction with her?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Well, obviously, we were serious about her because she was such a talented player and we were -- obviously really interested even more whether she moved to Connecticut when her father was relocated. But it never escalated to the point where there was an official visit and a home visit and all that. During the summer between her junior and senior year, we talked and things came up. You know I think she had a chance to see our program first hands sitting behind our bench at a couple games and you know the more I asked her questions, the more she asked me questions and the more I listened to some of her answers with the more it was evident this wasn't going to work out. It was just one of those things. As I said earlier, it's not for everybody. You know, I'm not for every kid and every kid is not for me.

Q. Coach, similar question, although involving Swin Cash, could you talk about her development and how hard was it to get her away from Penn State during the recruiting process?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: You know, I don't know. We've been recruiting Swin a long, long time. So I don't know who we got her away from. Obviously growing up in Pittsburgh, I assume that Penn State is obviously going to be in the picture. And I don't really try to compete with who the competition is. You know, the thing about Swin Cash is that she is one of the most competitive individuals I have ever seen. When she committed to us, she already knew that A Joans and Tamika were coming and it made her come even more because that's the kind of environment she wants to be in and those are the kind of people she wants to compete with and against. It wasn't that difficult, to be honest with you, and she's developed. From the first day on she is just one of those kids that plays all-out all the time.

Q. Can you talk about the toll the knee injuries have taken on your work and the team and the work you have had to do to get back to this point and specifically having Bird back after a knee injury has helped the team?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: You know, everything has a cycle, I guess. My first 11 years at Connecticut, I don't think we missed anybody for more than two weeks of any serious nature, especially any of our best players, and then in the last four years I guess it was my turn to experience what every coach in this country probably goes through on a regular basis. And yeah, you know, the last time we were really healthy was in '96 and we were in the Final, and in '97 even I thought we were the best team in the country, undefeated and Shea got hurt. The following year, you know, we get to the final 8 with initially Shea not being able to play the whole tournament. Last year was the worst because there's just too many holes you have to fill. You know what it did, it just taught us how to really enjoy and appreciate the time when everything goes right and you make it here. It's an incredible journey that you have to make to get here and a lot has to happen to go your way. You need a little bit of luck. You need a little bit of luck. A lot of really good players, which we have, and a little bit of luck.

Q. Can you talk about what it means for you personally to be home in Philadelphia for this and maybe how ironic it is, all the coaches with Philadelphia ties playing here in Philly?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: You know about two weeks ago, I told somebody, I'm not looking forward to the hysteria that's going to be down there if we go down there, but at the same time, I don't want to miss it. I don't want to be sitting home watching it. I'm a little bit embarassed by all the stuff that's in the papers. You know, it's not about me, it's about the players. Obviously, I'm from here and I grew up in the area and my story is a little bit unusual and I understand that and people like to write about that kind of stuff but I hope it doesn't take the focus away from the team. The other coaches -- if you tried to -- did this in script and tried to write it this way you could not have imagined it. I guess that's why we say truth is stranger than fiction, to have all four of these cities converge on this city at this time, fate, that's all I can attribute it to. It's meant to be.

Q. The Final 4, that grows and it's always going to continue to grow and it looks like it's just going to keep getting bigger but when you go to the regional sites and you think half or third-full arenas and you have to play opening rounds, where in the overall picture is this game at, how hard far do you have to go and how do you get there?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Great questions and I'm not sure we have a lot of time to answer, but I think the NCAA committee has to keep working on picking the right sights as you do on the men's site. You can't just put a men's first or second round site anywhere and expect to sell out. You have to keep working and Pecking the right sites as an administrative thing. Continue to promote the game. These are all intangible things. The grass roots issue, though, to be honest with you, though is better players, better coaches, more support from universities from the programs, but better players. We need better players. We need more development of players. And, you know, sadly to say, as more money is available in women's basketball, you'll see the players get better because the outside people that have an interest and can make money will start to develop players at an early age, as with the men. That's good and bad. The game will grow and hopefully they have learned their lessons, but right now we need better players. We need more good teams; we don't have enough good teams. I think it's important to have a couple great teams and we do but we need more good teams. Right now there's a lot of bad teams right now why? Because there's not enough good players. As the talent pool grows and the coaches get better and better and better and the kids that have played at this level, I think it's going to take a while, we're not there yet. But if you saw where we were in my first Final 4 in 1991, trust me we're in another galaxy right now.

Q. Could you speak to what is different about this Penn State team now than the one you faced back in December?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: You know they have got seven seniors, I believe on their team. You know what it is, I think they are used to each other; they play together. One of the biggest improvements I see is Helen Darling playing at a much higher level and I thought she was playing well then and I think Walseth has gotten better and better throughout the season. They are extremely well balanced. If you've got a really good pointguard and a solid post game, you can win a lot of games and they seem to have a lot of answers. I guess it's fitting that they are here, you know, Rene Portland, 24 years coaching, done a lot for the game. Fate, you know. They play great, though. They are great against Louisiana Tech.

Q. Can you go a little bit deeper between the matchup between Sue Bird and Helen Darling and you talked about Svetlana playing at a higher level than everyone else?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: I don't think it's Sue Bird against Helen Darling. They have two different functions, I think. But Sue Bird is kind of like a classic player can do things that guards do. You can't put a label on her, pointguard who passes -- she's an old-fashioned guard who does everything she to do. Helen is a senior and Sue Bird is really playing her first year in college. It will be interesting to see how they handle the pressure of being out there. Svetlana, you know, I've said before, when Svetlana plays the game the way she can play it, I don't think there's many people that can do as many things, can shoot the 3 as deep as she can, get the basket as well as she can and rebound as well as she can and she has a feel for things. She said it best, coming to a new country, having to learn everything. It's taken her a little bit of time to sort it all out but she's a big-game player.

Q. I'm curious about your comment that you made, "I'm not for every kid nor is every kid for me." As people first, I think that's the thing we try to keep in focus. You see kids play on the court when you are recruiting them but you know little about their personalities until they come to your campus. In your career, athletes who have challenged you, you have had some challenges with Svetlana, certainly with the cultural components and the challenging side of it, in the past have you had others and if so how have you dealt with that?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: My comment is this is a people thing. You don't just look at a kid play and say that kid is a great player and we're a great program, let's go. You can find out about people in the recruiting process and if you do find out something that you don't think fits, it's not going to work. I don't care how good the player is, it's not going to work and it's not my fault, it's not her fault. That's just the way it is. By the same token, I think you need to be strong to be successful. She's strong mentally, she's strong physically, she has a strong spirit about her. She has her strength of character, she believes in her convictions. You know what, she's just like her coach. That's why we fight all the time and I don't want to coach anybody who is not like that. So all my kids either become like that or they have trouble dealing with that because you know when they graduate nobody is going to feel sorry for them and nobody is going to hand them anything and nobody is going to come up to them and say, "look, I like your hairdo, her is everything you ever wanted," you've got to stand up for what you believe in and you've got to fight for it. That goes for basketball and everything else. All I'm trying to do is give them an opportunity to bring it out, that's all.

Q. Talk a little about where your team is at, where you want to be at tomorrow night and your keys against your opponent tomorrow night?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: You know, I think offensively, we play great. I don't like our defense the last two games. Our defense in the full court was great. But we reverted back to -- either stole it or you scored. And that's not going to get it done tomorrow. So I want our full-court defense to be as good as it it's been but our halfcourt defense needs to be a lot better tomorrow than it was last two games but our offense, I like the way we're shooting the ball, I like the way we're getting into our offense. People have got to remember now, five of our top eight players are freshmen and sophomores. These guys don't have all the little things that you need sometimes to figure things out. We're going to look bad at times, but our athleticism let's us get away with things at times. It's relative, to say that our bad is not that bad, but still, we're constantly learning.

Q. In a two-game tournament like this over three days, is the strength and depth of your bench less of a factor than it is over the long haul of the season?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: You know what, I don't know. It could go either way. It could be if you have got to play Friday night and then you've got to come back Sunday night, you know, you get a chance to spread your minutes around, maybe you're fresher Sunday night but then you get to Sunday, I don't think you can hold anything back Friday night. You have got to try to win Friday night. You have got to bring in Pedro in the 9th inning to go close it out; you can't wait until Sunday. At the same time the depth is only good if the guys coming off the bench are good. If they come off the bench and play well now that puts a lot of pressure on the other team. If the eight or nine guys that I'm fog to play Friday night play really, really well, then I think our depth will be a factor.

Q. You talked about Helen Darling improving her play, does that mean you have to now defend against her and try to take her out of their offense?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: You know, she's such an important part of their offense, I think you always have to defend against her. But I don't know that if you can spend any extra time on her now because I think that may maybe gives Shepherd a couple more easy looks from the 3 or Falcone an easier look or that takes away from some of the help you're trying to give in the post. I don't know that you can automatically now say you've got to divert your attention to them. Last time their post players had a field day but we still handled them pretty easily. I don't want to change too much what we did last time. I'd rather see what they have done to make some changes and then adjust to that.

Q. Can you talk about from a conference standpoint where the Big East stands in relation to the SEC right now, top to bottom?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Well, I've said this for ten years, that the top of our league has always been really good. We're kind of like -- we're really a small snapshot of the entire country. The top of our league is really, really good. The bottom of our league is not as good. The middle has gotten better. Our PR machine hasn't generated the same kind of stuff that they generate down South so a lot of people don't know that we have got some pretty good teams in our conference. We spent most of the year with four teams and the three teams in the Top-10. I would say the fact that Rutgers got here is not a surprise to me at all. I told Vivian Stringer when we played them for the Big East championship, I said to Larry, their assistant when they walked by me, "I'll see you in Philadelphia." I said there was no way anybody was going to beat them. That's how good I think they are. That says a lot about our league and where we've come from and I think it's better to the coaching we have in our league, the job that McGraw and Vivian Stringer have done and I think it's just the beginning of where we're going to go. The SEC has a big head start on us, big head start, we are just trying to catch up. But we are making up ground fast.

Q. With Leon Barmore retiring, there is now one fewer male coach now coaching women's team and there's been a lot made of that recently, do you think it's because of women's game -- do you think there should be affirmative action, should there be discrimination against men? What should be the formula in place for hiring coaches for women's teams?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: You know, it's a difficult question that sometimes no matter how you answer it, you get in trouble. So I'll tell you the truth, okay the truth is, I have two daughters and a son. And I could care less who is coaching them as long as they are really, really good with people and they treat my kids fairly and they help them get better at what they want to get better at. The question I have is why this issue is such a major issue in women's basketball but almost no other women's sport. There's almost no furor over who coaches in track, tennis, volley ball, soccer, gymnastics, swimming. It's only women's basketball, because that's where the publicity is, that's where the money is being generated. Who cares who coaches who. Now, if I had a choice, and I was coaching a team, would I hire Jamelle Elliott who is one of my assistants or some guy? Me personally I would hire Jamelle Elliott. Why? Because I think she is going to be a great coach. You hire the people that you think are going to be really good. If it happens to be a guy, great. To me, you just have to find really good coaches. And if it's a guy, it's a guy. If it's a woman, it's woman. If I had a choice and both things were equal, I would hire a woman.

Q. Because?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Because there's not enough good women's coaches right now so you need to constantly promote the fact that women need to keep learning the game and growing in the game and you don't want to give them the impression that there's no opportunity for them. You want to reward all the women that are really, really good coaches just like you don't want to deny a guy who is a good coach. You want to be fair. But by saying that I think it's important that we have the kinds of role models that a kid can look and say there are men and women coaches just like in most homes there's a guy and a woman; I didn't say all, I said most. Well, all you're trying to do is be like most things in the country. Give kids a balance.

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