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April 3, 2006
DEBBIE BYRNE: I'm going to ask Coach to make an opening comment and we'll only have the players in here for 15 minutes. Brenda will then stay with me for the duration, which will be about another 30 minutes after that. So let's let Brenda make an opening statement.
BRENDA FRESE: I'll tell you, obviously I'm extremely excited to be playing in the first national championship game for our program here at the University of Maryland. And I'll tell you, these kids, these players, have taken us for a heck of a ride. We're just looking forward to continuing on with it.
I think these players have shown time in and time out that they belong here. And from the moment that they stepped on campus they have shown that they had a big picture, one goal that they wanted to accomplish and they're one step away from achieving that goal.
I want to thank all of our Maryland fans. The amount of support that we had here in the arena, that have come here, our fans back home, the incredible support, the phone calls, the e-mail, the buzz that's going on around Maryland athletics is something pretty special.
Obviously tomorrow night we're going to have to come out, we're going to have to have a tremendous game plan against a very talented Duke team with a tremendous amount of depth and experience. And we're going to have to come out and obviously be able to defend and rebound against them.
Obviously a couple things that we're excited about, it's guaranteed tomorrow night that there's going to be an ACC champion that's going to be a national champion. From our end it's the fourth time playing Duke, so, again, I think these players could give you the scouting report by heart at this point.
We obviously understand how good and how talented Duke is. But I love where we're at and where we're peaking and the kind of confidence we're playing with, but Duke has set the bar in our league. They were the ones winning the titles, winning the championship, and because of it they have all made us a lot better and have made this Maryland team have to step up and play at an amazingly high level as well.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Questions for the players.
Q. For any player that would like to answer, do you find it either amusing or insulting that the conventional notion is that this team is too young to be having this kind of success right now?
KRISTI TOLIVER: It is kind of amusing. We don't think that we're that young. We don't think we're that inexperienced. We have all been playing basketball forever. We have had overseas experience, with three of these guy, four of these guys up here. So we're just out having fun, playing basketball, doing what we do. And as long as we come out with a lot of confidence and keep playing the way we have been playing offensively and defensively, we'll be fine.
Q. For Crystal, Laura and Shay, obviously all of those 14 losses to Duke weren't yours, but how much of that at one point just became psychological and do you think beating them in the ACC tournament kind of got that monkey off your back so to speak?
CRYSTAL LANGHORNE: That's exactly what I said when we finally beat Duke, the monkey is off our back. It was really tough playing Duke. They constantly beat us. We finally got that win off and I think that mentally it's, that fear against Duke is just gone.
LAURA HARPER: I think that it's no longer a thing that we really dread playing or we kind of get nervous or anything, I think it's just another ACC game that we prepare ourselves to play. I think that beating them in the ACC tournament definitely gave us the confidence to know that we can compete with them, we can compete with anyone. So I definitely think that helped.
SHAY DORON: Well, in the past obviously I just think Duke was better. And right now I think that it's pretty even with the teams and that's why like Harp said, we're not nervous and we have proven we can beat them and we know we can beat them and play with them every game since this season. The last two games we had, I mean, we had a huge lead on them at half-time that one game, and so we were in the game with them for a while.
So we know we can play with this team and that's the biggest difference is we're just as good this year as they are.
Q. Question for Marissa, do you see some similarities with the teams with good post players and good perimeter players?
MARISSA COLEMAN: Definitely. I think we match up so well with them, we can score from all five positions and they can to. The rebounding, the fast pace tempo, it's going to be a very fun game, very similar to UNC.
DEBBIE BYRNE: All right. I'm going to let them go. We'll take questions for the coach now.
Q. You were talking about your team peaking at the right time. Is this essentially a hot team right now or just a team that has really found its rhythm and groove?
BRENDA FRESE: Obviously a little bit of both. They're really gelling and understanding whatever is working, they have understood in the NCAA tournament if we need to go inside we're going to do that, if we need to go outside we'll execute from that end. But I just really like to see just the amount of confidence that they're playing with right now and just really playing unselfish team basketball.
Q. What is the difference, please, between the Duke team that you beat in the ACC tournament and the team you're playing now? Have you noticed any difference since that time?
BRENDA FRESE: Wow, you know, I've just thought all season long in terms of when you play Duke and try to match up with them, just they continue to have a tremendous amount of depth, and I think they're playing with a lot of confidence right now. I think Pokey Chatman said it pretty well in her press conference that at one point when they were talking about Duke being down or struggling in the ACC tournament, that we were all going head to head with each other, us, Duke and Carolina. So I just see their seniors, their veterans, really playing, they're poised and they're on a mission and both teams are going to be hungry and want to win this game.
Q. Marissa and Crystal played for Coach G over the summer. How do you feel about that and has it made them better?
BRENDA FRESE: Well, they loved reading all the books that they got to read this summer with Coach G and the homework assignments that she gave them. But they really respected playing for her. Gail is a tremendous coach. I know they learned a lot. I think it really got Marissa prepared for college. Marissa coming in from high school, the level of intensity that needed to take place in a practice, in Coach G's practice, got her prepared and made my job a heck of a lot easier, with Coach G coaching her over the summer. And Crystal, she just gained so much valuable experience being a leader, named the tricaptain on that team.
So nothing but positive things from them spending the time with Gail in the summer.
Q. I know that there were a lot of wins this season that your team could point to as giving them confidence, but beating Duke in that ACC tournament, did that sort of propel you to the run you've had through the NCAA?
BRENDA FRESE: I think you can point back to so many of the key games throughout the season. The Carolina win was pretty special at their place. But the Duke win, as the players have mentioned, kind of was the monkey off their back, so to speak, given the history and the tradition that Duke has had against Maryland. And let's not forget the tradition that Maryland has had in the past. I think people forget since it was in the '80s, that Maryland still owns the most ACC titles and has done some pretty special things. So just being able to get the talent back so we could be able to match up with Duke and make it a competitive series.
Q. I've seen a lot of basketball games, I don't think I've ever seen anybody commit 12 turnovers in one game, let alone for a winning team. So what is it about Kristi's makeover or whatever that makeup, that allows her to continue to play and allows you to continue to have faith in her?
BRENDA FRESE: Well, I think the thing that makes her so special, as you witnessed her having a tough night with the turnovers, but she kept her head in the game. And how many freshmen do you know who would, or any player let's not even tab her as a freshman, make that many mistakes and still be able to keep their head in the game and stay poised and knock down some really key shots. And I think we're losing sight of her effort defensively, what she did against Ivory last night, keeping her in check and making her take difficult shots. And then just keeping her poise for a 40-minute game. She's the backbone of this team and she's come so far. In the past that 12 turnovers would have affected her game and just the fact that she stayed in the game and stayed positive with this team.
Q. Duke has won its last two tournament games scoring more than 20 points below its average. Do you see this as a positive sign that maybe they're a little out of sync or a warning signal that they can win despite not scoring 80 points?
BRENDA FRESE: I think that shows you the sign of a great team when you can pull out wins even when you're not scoring a lot of points or maybe, from our end, at times when we weren't playing some of our best basketball and able to pull out games, so I don't think at any point -- we have the utmost respect for Duke, you can never underestimate them, because they're so talented, so deep, they're so experienced, and they have one goal at hand as well.
Q. You said something a few seconds ago, people forget in the past and you said in the '80s about Maryland, a problem or the dilemma this sport has is its past is always changing. In the '80s I'm not sure how many of us were watching this. This sport had a full crowd last night and I've been where there's no one there. What's the next step? How do these guys become a weekly, daily, monthly event?
BRENDA FRESE: Well, first it is my job to keep reminding people of history, because we feel like it's pretty special at Maryland. But we just continue to grow the game. And as we have this room filled with media and being able to be our voice out there and being able to validate what a great game we have here, to be able to have great games, in the semis and this championship game that our audience is going to be able to view and then it comes down to the fans and our supporters to be able to come out and be able to get in the gyms and be able to fill this audience up.
Q. You talked the other day about Shay committing, how crucial that was. How about Crystal's commitment to you, coming that she was two-time state Player of the Year, McDonald's All-American, how crucial was her commitment to the program?
BRENDA FRESE: Well, obviously it was huge. We really felt like in the first class with Shay Doron and Kalika France we were able to secure some of our guard play. And then in that second class to be able to have Crystal Langhorne when she could have chosen any school in the country, had narrowed her list. We were in that mix with UCONN and Tennessee and Florida and Virginia and for her to be able to say yes to Maryland, was a huge validation to our program. And really I think opened up the doors to a lot of perspective student-athletes and recruits out there that, hey, as they see these talented players committing to Maryland, that Maryland is definitely a top choice.
Q. We talked a lot about the experience factor last few days, can you comment a little bit about Shay in that regard, her being sort of the one that's been here there through the rise to a elite status?
BRENDA FRESE: Yeah, I thought Shay played a really special game for us last night. And really throughout the tournament a lot of negative things have been said about her play and she doesn't need to show up on a stat sheet for us to show how valuable she is to this team. I just thought her, her leadership last night, she was really doing all the directing on the defensive end. Her energy, what she is saying, what she's doing in time-outs, the amount of confidence that she's really infusing in our players. Those are the unwritten things that people don't see that she does behind the scenes and she's done it all season long. It's why she's playing in the national championship game in three years in such a short time of her career.
Q. This sort of takes off on the last part of your answer: What was your timetable when you got the Maryland job? How long did you think it would take to turn things around?
BRENDA FRESE: You know, I never placed a timetable. I never have been smart enough probably to put a five-year or ten-year plan timetable to put that together.
When I spent my one year at Minnesota I remember walking in there and that team had won eight games and I initially started out hoping we would win 10. And once that team reached 10 wins in the non-conference play, we upped it to 15 and then to 20. You keep raising the bar as you see a team can handle those expectations.
So obviously we felt like as competitive as the ACC was, and where we wanted to be nationally, that it was going to take obviously some recruiting classes to be able to get in to reach that level. But I don't think you can set a timetable or you can't measure, you can't measure a player and a team's heart. And I think that's the thing that you're seeing with this team being able to separate themselves.
Q. Can you talk about the impact Alison Bales has on a game and how maybe you can use maybe speed or quickness or something to counteract that?
BRENDA FRESE: I think Alison Bales right now is playing at a high level. Just watching her through the tournament she's really just been a consistent, steady force for Duke. Obviously with her size she gives a lot of match-up problems. And, yeah, you hope that you can use your speed and quickness to combat the fact that she's 6'7".
Q. Dissecting Kristi's game a little bit it seemed like you guys were bent on getting the ball inside early in possessions, especially in the first half and it led to a few turnovers, also seemed to work for some points. Was that by design and can you afford to duplicate that strategy against Duke's bigs tomorrow?
BRENDA FRESE: That definitely was the game plan. We felt like if we could go at North Carolina inside, hopefully maybe try to get them in some early foul trouble, we felt that maybe they didn't have as much depth inside compared to what they have on the perimeter. But again, I think that you have to probably read the flow of the game tomorrow night and from our end we usually have been able to utilize what's been more successful, whether it's our guard play or our post play, reading the flow of the game.
Q. You and Gail a lot of people would say that have you a lot of similar characteristics, meaning when you were in college both of you probably started to feel like you wanted to become coaches. I wonder if you could sort of talk about how much you two are alike and just the fact that you are fairly close in age, in the same conference, and probably are going to be battling each other for a couple decades at least.
BRENDA FRESE: I've always had the utmost respect for Gail and I've told her this time and time again, I just think she's such a class act whether she's winning or in the moment of defeat she's always a class act with her opponent and with this conference.
And I think probably our similarities is we're both so darn passionate about the sport, about the game, about our student-athletes, and about their best interests. And I remember actually when I got the Maryland job Gail was one of the coaches that reached out on my voicemail, left a message. Told me that her job was going to get a lot harder because she obviously had been in the DC area, she grabbed up Monique Currie, Wanisha Smith, a lot of talented players in our area and she knew that that was going to be the first area and territory that I was going to clamp down on, was just taking care of our home state and our surrounding area.
So first class all the way and it's just exciting for both of our programs to be playing in the national championship game.
Q. A lot was made about the kids making their first trip to the Final Four, how about you? Were you a little anxious, nervous, coming into this weekend?
BRENDA FRESE: I think that you go through a whole range of emotions as you're here and just thinking about the Final Four and a national championship game. Yeah, definitely, nervous, apprehensive, then you go into emotions that I remember yesterday kind of getting kind of choked up just thinking about what this game meant and the meaning of it, and then actually as the days wore on and got closer to yesterday's game, I just got a real inner sense of peace, calmness, poise, confidence, and this is from our players' end and a coach's end, why you've worked so hard. And you shouldn't have nerves at this point, it should be a level of confidence, because you know you put in all the preparation and the hard work to get yourself to this point.
Q. When did you realize that you wanted to be a coach and you would be good at it?
BRENDA FRESE: Initially when I was in high school I knew I wanted to be a high school coach. I kind of had set my goals there. And always remember my dad telling me, "You can do more. Never underestimate yourself. You can do more than you think." And it was really in college when I battled through four foot surgeries when I was at Arizona, and thought I was going to play for the rest of my life, like most players, and ended up losing most of my junior year and then my senior year was completely finished with basketball.
So I got the opportunity to coach at Pima Community College that year. I got to do it all as an assistant coach. I got to coach and really felt like at that time this was something that I really loved and didn't want to -- it was kind of an extension to be a part of a team and to always be coaching you were always going to be with some wonderful people.
Q. Two things: One, what did you learn from the last three games with Duke and maybe what will be your keys? And then second, your decision to open practice, just wondering what that thought was.
BRENDA FRESE: Obviously with Duke you got to be able to defend, you got to be able to rebound and they have so many key match-ups, obviously because they have so much depth, every player that steps on the floor for Duke can score. Their depth is tremendous. They go nine or ten players deep. So they can really wear you down. We just have to -- obviously we have to make it difficult for them in terms of our defensive plan and our rebounding plan.
In terms of open practice, I'm probably different from most coaches and teams in that I want the sport to become as visible as possible. And I feel like that -- I don't have anything to hide. There aren't any secrets that go about in this business and with this game. It's going to come down to who can stop who tomorrow night. And I want to be able to give that kind of access to our media, to still continue to get to know these players, our team, so that they can be well received and so we can grow this sport, and grow it as far as we can.
Q. Can you talk about Marissa Coleman and her intangibles yesterday, passing the basketball and also rebounding for you guys.
BRENDA FRESE: Yeah, you know, Marissa was huge, close to a triple-double, stepped up, made huge free throws for us, tremendous job being unselfish. She was passing the ball inside and then stepping up and making some key shots and getting on the glass. I thought her -- obviously her size on the perimeter and the job that she was able to do on the glass, that's so similar to every player on this team, whatever it takes to win is what Marissa is going to do.
Q. You guys have really seemed to embrace the underdog role and keep using the word respect or disrespect, why does it matter, I mean, as long as you guys keep winning, why does it matter if you are getting respect?
BRENDA FRESE: It really doesn't, I know these players in their heart they understand and, hey, they're playing in the national championship game, but I think that from anyone's end when you put the kind of hard work and the time and the energy that you do in your sport, it is nice to be validated and respected in your sport. And that's, you know, I guess the one last kind of final stamp of approval that they're looking for.
Q. Could you size up Newman's contributions last night and going forward, because it seemed look she was, when you guys forged ahead, making some nice passes inside, and not that she came from know where, we know of her, but where is she going? Is she going to play tomorrow?
BRENDA FRESE: Oh, yeah. I thought that Ashley and Jade obviously had a tough game in terms of the foul trouble that they were in. Both of them. My gosh. I mean they were so key in terms of the minutes that they did get when they were in foul trouble, how they defended, and how they played. And I thought Ashley's play, she's a tough, confident guard for us. And just like we have seen all season long, different games, different players, step up and the thing I'll credit Ashley with is she stayed in the game. It's tough when you're in foul trouble, sometimes you lose your players and I thought she just stayed poised, stayed confident and she's again going to be someone that needs to come ready to play tomorrow night.
Q. You've been able to bring Maryland to elite status in a very short period of time. With the benefit of a top flight resources and a top flight university, how far away do you think the women's game is from having a George Mason and what will it take for that to happen in the women's game?
BRENDA FRESE: I think we're continuing to keep growing this game, just like the men have done. So we're obviously getting closer in terms of our depth, this year you're seeing where we could have had a handful of teams here in the Final Four. I mean I think a depth of 10 to 12 teams had that possibility. I think that you're starting to see the resources and the support being put out there by the administrators and we're just going to continue to grow the game. I can't tell you how far away that's going to be, I mean, obviously, that's where you're at, but I'm excited. Parity has arrived, look at this national championship game and all of us just need to continue to keep working hard to keep building it even further.
DEBBIE BYRNE: Okay. We're going to let Brenda head back to her locker room area. Thank you.
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