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March 31, 2000

Svetlana Abrosimova

Geno Auriemma

Shea Ralph


COACH GENO AURIEMMA: I thought -- I thought the game went the way I thought it would go, because, you know, Penn State is a very difficult team to prepare for, because they run so many good sets and they do a very good job of getting their -- the shots that they want to get. But I felt if we could get the game going a little bit quicker than they wanted to and isolate their post one-on-one and if our post players came to play that we would be okay, and that, you know, we didn't get a great game out of Svet or Shea, and it shows you the depth of our team and the quality of our depth that without two of our best players, we still managed to play a really, really good game, and we're happy going into Sunday night and looking forward to playing in the game.

Q. When they made their run, you guys seemed to be able to respond with a big basket. Talk about the ability of your team to come up big time and again?

SHEA RALPH: Yeah, I thought that we did a great job. You know, we've always said when somebody punches us we have to punch back and I thought tonight we did a wonderful job of that. Sue Bird headed it up and did a great job on our offense, and it seemed like every time we came up, she came down and made a shot, made a run; she made something happen on the other end. We are very proud of her and so are our post players I thought they did a great job of setting it up.

Q. Now that it is UCONN and Tennessee, is this really the dream matchup?

SHEA RALPH: Yeah, it definitely is. I mean, I think that everybody has been waiting for this game. I think if you ask anybody who watches women's basketball, they probably would have said or put down in their pocket that UConn and Tennessee would have met in the final game. It's definitely fate. It's going to be a big battle. We've prepared, we've worked hard and we're ready for it.

Q. You kept Helen Darling scoreless in this game. How did you do it?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Neither of them can answer that because neither of them had anything to do with it.

SHEA RALPH: That is not true (laughs). I played defense against her, for a little bit, at the end. I think, you know, Helen Darling really wasn't looking to score that much is what I noticed when I played defense on her. I think they were blocking to get more three-point shots and really we got a lot of help from our post players; they were setting a lot of screens on her, and we were trying to turn her as much as we could get to make sure she didn't get inside, into the lane, and I thought for the most part we did a great job of that.

Q. You hadn't scored a lot today but yet when the game was only four points, 11 minutes to play, you hit a big 3-pointer; can you just talk about your confidence of taking that shot and then talk about Sue Bird a little bit. Everybody has said this pointguard is great that pointguard is great all year long and she came up big tonight?

SHEA RALPH: Well, the first question you had, yeah, I wasn't really clicking offensively today, but that three was wide open and if I didn't hit that then I don't deserve to be on the floor so I needed to make that three. We work on that shot every day in practice and I had confidence in it. Sue Bird, there's no -- not enough that I can say about her. She does not get enough recognition. She has been the MVP of our team this year. She has gelled us together and taken us for a wild ride in that tournament and every time we need to be -- to step up she takes up and takes our team where we want to go. I'm so proud of her being only a sophomore and also going through a very tough knee injury, I think that she's come back better than I've expected and better than a lot of other people expected and she's just a great player. She knows how to play the game.

Q. You've played Tennessee twice this year. What did you learn from those games? Do you think it will benefit you Sunday night?

SVETLANA ABROSIMOVA: Tennessee is the only one team who beat us this year; so we kind of equal this time because we won it in their place and they beat us in our place. We know that they are a great team, you know they have great players. But I think the first time we played against them we showed that we are a great team, too, but the second time, you know, their best players hit a couple really important shots at the end. So I think it's going to come out to who is going to have a better team, you know and as Shea said, it's going to be a big battle tomorrow.

Q. Do you think if Sue had been healthy last year you might have been in the Final Four, the Championship game instead of getting beat in the regional?

SHEA RALPH: I mean, who is to say about that. There is a lot of things that can happen. I think maybe that was what it was meant to be. I think, you know, there's a lot that you learn from an experience like that and who knows if she would be as good as she is if she had not have gone through that, she had to face tougher times than she's faced in her life. You can't look in the past and say what if this, what if that because there's nothing you can to do change it. I'm just happy that she's on the floor with us now and that we're playing in the final game with her in the backcourt leading us.

Q. You alluded to one of the big offensive rebounds, could you elaborate a little bit it seemed all game long when you had to get a put back you got one and one of the differences, I thought?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Games like this, in this venue, you know, there's not going to be a lot of shots made early on in the game. Kids are tight, you know. They are nervous. They have nervous energy. There's going to be a lot of missed shots. And going in, I thought the team that does a better job rebounding, does a better job on cooling the boards is going to have a better chance of winning. Asjha Jones and Kelly Schumacher were phenomenal. I thought every rebound came at a crucial time, it seemed like, exactly when we needed it. It's still about defense and rebounding. I don't care what anybody says.

Q. It seemed like this was a very physical game, especially down low, were you expecting that out of Penn State, and does that concern you heading into Sunday's match that maybe some of your post players maybe got a little banged up?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: No, that doesn't worry me. But I knew it would be. Any time you are playing when the season might end I think it's going to be very physical. But from what I know about the two teams that played in the first game, there's a lot of ice being spread around that locker room, too, I can guarantee you that.

Q. As much success as this program has had, it's been since '95 and taken you this long to get back to a championship game. Does that just emphasize just how precious these opportunities are and how difficult they are to come by?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah, they are. I was saying to Pat Summitt the other day, you know, years like last year when, you know they have the best team and they don't get here, I think God does that to you to make you appreciate the years you do get there even more. We came here two years in a row, won one lost would you know and another time we had the best team in the country I thought and an injury kept us out of it. One little thing can go wrong and you don't make it, I don't care how good your team is. You need a little bit of good luck, smiles on you, ball bounces the right way. Being good is not good enough. So the fact that we are good enough and fortunate enough to be here, yeah, I think we cherish this as much as anything, no question about it.

Q. You mentioned Asjha Jones had a great game tonight and there's some games she doesn't play a lot and other games she plays a lot and plays a great game. Is it just inconsistent play?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah, you know the only person in America that can defend Asjha Jones is Asjha Jones. She has a tendency sometimes to think too much about what do I want to do or analyze things too much. She's very bright. I tell people back home, our reporters, she's the brightest kid on our team, in school and everything. She's got everything together. That's good and bad. You know, she sees both sides of everything, and I only want her to see one side, you know. When she's just playing, without thinking, she's -- you saw tonight. She's the new wave of women's basketball players, inside-outside, right-hand, left-hand. Let's hope she's got another one inside her Sunday night.

Q. Given the fact that you shut down a star player on the other side, how good was your defense?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Well, we were talking about it on the bench. Our defense at times was lousy. They got more open shots tonight than I would really, really like, and at times our defense was really, really good. But our defense on Helen Darling was good all night. I thought we did a good job. KJ and Sue and Shea and Svet kept rotating people on her to give her a different look. Honest to God, I thought the key in the game was when we took KJ and Sue off of Helen Darling and put our two quickest players on Falcone and Shepherd, because it made it very, very difficult for them to lose them. Svet and Shea, they're easy to -- they're easy to lose, while Shea is not as quick, Svet likes to wander; so the other two guys, you know, I thought that was the difference in the last seven or eight minutes.

Q. Coach, could you comment on Sue Bird's performance, please?

COACH GENO AURIEMMA: I don't know what to say. Sue Bird hasn't gotten any awards this year. Nobody thinks of her as the best pointguard in the country or senior who made first time all league. I hear a lot of people talking about a lot of pointguards in our league, around the country, anybody who has watched us play, anybody who has watched Sue play -- I tell you what, I wouldn't -- I wouldn't -- I wouldn't have taken any other pointguard playing right now in America ahead of Sue Bird. That's how good she is. She's played only about 40-some odd games, and without her, there's no way that we'd be here. The kid's got a lot of guts.

End of FastScripts….

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