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March 30, 2000
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
End of FastScripts